Weston's younger students might fully return after break

The Weston Board of Education held a virtual meeting on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020.

The Weston Board of Education held a virtual meeting on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020.

DJ Simmons/Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTON — School officials are planning a staged return to full-time, in-person learning for younger students following the winter break.

Superintendent William Mckersie said his proposal for a staged return follows a common theme emerging across many districts to shift back to in-person learning for younger students.

“That’s in the midst of most of them seeing the same very conservative views from the medical and health advisers because of the nature of the pandemic, and the pace at which it has been picking up and spreading,” Mckersie said at a Board of Education meeting Monday.

The proposal would see schools remain in the remote model from Jan. 4 to Jan. 6. Kindergartners at Hurlbutt Elementary would shift to in-person learning on Jan. 7, while the rest of the school district returned to a hybrid, full-day model.

Special education students in first to fifth grade would have an option for in-person learning starting on Jan. 7. High needs students from kindergarten to 12th grade would also return to in-person learning then.

The district will decide if the first grade students would return on Jan. 19 or 25, and second graders would be considered around Feb. 8, Mckersie said.

Some of the criteria behind the decision will be public and medical health guidance, quality of teaching and learning in the hybrid versus remote model, and COVID-19 spread within the region, school district and town.

“We want all in but everyone should know that all in within this pandemic is not the same as all in pre-pandemic,” Mckersie said.

Laura Kaddis, principal of Hurlbutt Elementary, said a consideration in recent months has been density in the school buildings. She said this will be an important balancing act as the district hopes to have younger students return to in-person learning, in addition to continued mitigating measures.

“We’ve been very pleased with the mitigating strategies that we’ve had since the beginning of the year,” Kaddis said. “We think we’ve been very successful with them.”

But Mckersie said a key issue is that health officials have started to see signs of spread within other school districts.

“As districts have gone into full-in with younger students that social distancing measure has shrunk,” he said, adding Weston would likewise have to grapple with how comfortable it was lessening social distancing measures.

BOE member Taffy Miller questioned how the district could feel confident putting staff and students in school after what could possibly be a Christmas surge. She added families needed to brace themselves for this plan to change.

“I think it’s really important to say right there at this meeting and every day between now and when they’re back in school that this could be reversed at anytime,” Miller said. “Families need to prepare themselves for that.”

Kaddis said the concern of a Christmas surge was a factor for going with a staged approach for younger students.

“I do think that’s why it’s important to step into the grades and not to just hope for the best and go all back in,” she said.

BOE member Ruby Hedge noted the district has the voluntary distance learning option for parents who may be concerned. She added a recent community survey showed parents were happy with the option.

“If given the opportunity we need to just capitalize on every day we can to get the students back in school,” Hedge said.

BOE Chair Tony Pesco said there will likely be criticism on whatever decision is ultimately made .

“My view on this is that whatever it is we need a nominal plan with some nominal dates so that everyone has an expectation of where we’re going,” Pesco said.

The BOE plans to have a special meeting on Jan. 4 to discuss the decision.