Elementary students likely the first to fully return to school in Westport
WESTPORT — Students may soon learn if they’re returning to school fully in person, though Superintendent Thomas Scarice said his decision will likely only include the elementary schools.
Scarice said he plans to announce a decision on returning to full-in person learning next week due to the low virus rates across the school district.
“This is a decision that is going to be made based on health and safety factors and what we believe is best for kids,” Scarice said at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.
A number of area districts had self-reported low levels of coronavirus-related incidents at the elementary level, he said. But the increased number students at the already combined middle schools and number of students at the high school could delay a decision at higher levels in town.
“We were out of the regional norm with the way we opened up in our hybrid model, and I feel we have to be consistent and make a decision that’s best for our kids moving forward,” Scarice said.
Suzanne Levasseur, district supervisor of health services, said most of the positive cases seen in the district came from exposures outside the schools.
“The good news is our mitigating measures continue to work,” she said, adding they are not seeing transfers within schools.
Scarice said he met with the elementary principals last week to brainstorm operational challenges in a full reopening, including class sizes. Nineteen of the 115 elementary school classes are expected to have 21 or more students attending in person.
“It’s important information when you’re thinking about one of our primary measures is distancing,” he said.
Transmission rates and the efficacy of the district’s mitigating measures would be key in deciding on returning to full in-person learning, Scarice said. The district looks to gather feedback over the next several days from employees and health officials before a decision is announced.
“Just from a helicopter view looking down there are a lot of cases — New Canaan, Greenwich, Ridgefield, Darien — that have fully reopened without any incidents at the elementary level as of this point in time,” he said.
But parents were mixed on a full return, even just at the elementary level.
“I’m a physician with a child in elementary school in Westport participating in the hybrid model,” Melissa Alexander, a Westport parent, said. “I would strenuously urge you not to go to a full day schedule.”
Alexander said children would not be able to adequately distance themselves and could be exposed to each other for hours with a full day schedule.
“One year of a hybrid model is a small price to pay for our children’s and families’ safety,” she said.
However, parent Brian Kane said his elementary school kids were not receiving the quality of education they need, adding most neighboring towns have returned to full in-person learning at the lower levels.
“We should be setting return dates but instead are looking at weeks of delay to review opinions,” Kane said.
BOE Vice Chair Jeannie Smith said she wanted to consider full in-person learning at the high school due to the challenges of a hybrid model.
“I just want to be, again, thinking about the kids and what we want them to have,” she said.
BOE Chair Candice Savin said making the rationale clear for whatever decision is made by the superintendent will be important for the community.
“This is a very complex situation all of us are in,” she said. “We grappled with this all summer (before) we came to a plan. The superintendent is grappling with this now.”