Weston school staff report concerns of return, as school board evaluates reopen plan
WESTON — The Board of Education reviewed a draft submitted by administration for its reopening plan, but showed caution without clear state public health guidelines for schools.
“I’d like to just say that public health and safety of our staff and students is going to be the driving criteria for picking the mode of school reopening, as well as curricular and other elements,” BOE Chair Tony Pesco said at a special meeting last week.
Connecticut school districts had until July 24 to submit their plans for three scenarios — a return to full in-person learning, a fully remote model and a hybrid model — to the state Department of Education.
On Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont said the state would not dictate which learning model districts choose.
Superintendent William Mckersie said a poll of Weston’s staff elicited 239 responses with 135 employees reporting they have some reason they feel they can’t come back to work in a pandemic.
“That just shows you front and center, in Weston there are staff — like in the region, the state, and in the nation — that have concerns about returning to work in a pandemic,” he said.
Conversely, a recent community survey reported 76 percent of Weston parents intended to send their children back to the physical campus in the fall. Five percent reported they did not intend to send their child back and 19 percent were undecided.
District officials outlined the three models for the lower levels and higher levels with accommodations being made for in-person learning, such as spacing out desks.
Laura Kaddis, principal of Hurlbutt Elementary, said they leaned towards the hybrid model for the lower levels because it eliminated a lot of challenges associated with a full reopening.
“Working with a smaller group of students, it’s easier to move them around, it’s easier to socially distance, it gives us more options in the classroom in terms of furniture and setting up a true elementary classroom,” she said.
At the middle school and high school level,to a hybrid model would see two groups of students separated by last name rotate alternating days in the morning. All of the students would engage in distance learning in the afternoon.
“This hybrid model addresses distance learning needs for all students,” Weston Middle School Principal Dan Doak said.
Mckersie said a challenge for all levels is that parents are allowed change to the distance learning model for their child at any time, regardless of the model the schools are using.
“I can assure you, of the many challenges, this is one of the bigger ones across the state that districts are grappling with,” he said.
The state Department of Public Health had also not released guidelines or health indicators for when school closures would be required, he said, and his biggest concern was the state not giving a uniform guideline.
“Let us make individual decisions, but give us clear guidance in the public health area,” Mckersie said.
Several board members voiced concern on the lack of guidance on athletics and other extracurricular activities. BOE members also questioned the latitude they had in changing the plan later.
Pesco said for the school board to make an informed decision, they will need medical experts to opine on the various modes presented.
“We have to be prepared for the state not to give us additional information and for ultimately the administration and the board to approve based on the medical advice we get from the health district and our health adviser,” he said. “Unless we’re pleasantly surprised, I think that’s going to be the expected route.”