Weston BOE pushes for reopening plans for older students

The Weston Board of Education held a virtual meeting on Tuesday to discuss schooling scenarios. Taken Jan. 19, 2021.

The Weston Board of Education held a virtual meeting on Tuesday to discuss schooling scenarios. Taken Jan. 19, 2021.

DJ Simmons/Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTON — Attention has turned to the middle and high school’s reopening plans as the district moves its youngest students to full, in-person learning.

Kindergartners at Hurlbutt Elementary shifted to in-person learning on Jan. 7, with a decision on whether first graders would return expected to come as early as Thursday. School officials have said second graders would be considered around Feb. 8.

“At this point despite the increases in the infection rates with COVID-19 as with most districts around us we’re holding with that plan,” Superintendent Bill Mckersie said at a Board of Education meeting this week.

He said the decision to move to reopening despite increased COVID rates comes as more information is learned about the virus and schools learn to adjust. He added he has continued to have conversations with the Weston Teacher Association to address staff concerns, and health and safety remain his first priority.

“That’s what we’re going to work towards, balancing that with the needs for more in-person,” Mckersie said.

Patricia Falber, principal of Weston Intermediate School, said about 25 percent of her students are in distance learning with many of their parents saying they will remain there until the end of February. She said this could help in reducing class sizes if students return.

Falber said one of her concerns will be decreased social distancing, especially in the cafeteria when students are eating for lunch.

Principals at the middle and high school level shared similar concerns about the challenges of bringing students back in full time.

But BOE members questioned what the process would be for seeing a full-in return at the middle school and high school, noting talks have consistently been about the lower levels.

“I think it’s going to be critical to understand the criteria you’re evaluating whether to stay here or to move,” BOE Chair Tony Pesco said.

Dan Doak, principal of Weston Middle School, said as middle schools in neighboring districts bring back all of their students the reality is those schools are not maintaining six-feet distances.

“The question is are we as a district willing to give up that key mitigating strategy?” he said.

Doak said the current schedule gives the school consistency and predictability which has helped both staff and students.

“If we’re going to go to a different scenario we really need to think long and hard about that so that the scenario we put in place will take us through the end of the year,” Doak said, adding how to handle lunch in a full return would pose a challenge.

Lisa Wolak, principal at Weston High School, said administrators have a lot of ideas and scenarios but it’s premature to go down the road when the necessary health metrics aren’t in place. She added officials would continue to review plans.

“That being said we have to see how we can mitigate the risks,” Wolak said. “While there are ideas there’s nothing set in stone because one thing we see is it is kind of a fluid situation.”