Westport Schools make more changes to COVID measures

Students arrive for the first day of classes at Coleytown Middle School, in Westport, Conn. Aug. 31, 2021.

Students arrive for the first day of classes at Coleytown Middle School, in Westport, Conn. Aug. 31, 2021.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — School officials recently announced some changes to the COVID-19 mitigation measures, which come amid a slight increase in positive cases over the last few weeks.

Some of the new changes the district has implemented include requiring negative COVID tests for unvaccinated school visitors and reducing the audience sizes for school concerts and performances, Superintendent Thomas Scarice said in an email on Wednesday.

Nearly a month ago, Scarice said that the COVID infection rates had hovered at levels the district had not seen since May. However, in the ensuing weeks the district has seen an increase in infections in the region and have also been alerted to the warning of the omicron variant.

Since the last COVID-19 update on Nov. 24, the school reported 19 new cases. Ten cases were reported from Kings Highway Elementary School, three cases from Coleytown Elementary School, two cases from both Bedford Middle School and Long Lots Elementary School and one case at both Staples High School and Greens Farms Elementary School.

Scarice said despite the slight increase, hundreds of 5-11 year olds have been vaccinated in town, or are receiving their second shot. Their vaccination rate is in addition to the high rate of vaccinations among the district’s staff, secondary students and the community at large.

“There is much to learn about how this variant might, or might not, impact our community,” Scarice said. “This is precisely why approaching the school year in four to six week increments is important.”

Another change is extending the district’s voluntary weekly COVID testing program for K-6 students. The program was set to end at the conclusion of November, however, with the recent developments, the program will continue through at least the end of the calendar year.

Schools will also expand beyond allowing vaccinated visitors to allowing unvaccinated visitors with evidence of a negative COVID test from within 72 hours prior to visiting the schools.

Scarice said that the district has successfully implemented the new “Screen and Stay” quarantine procedures, which is an effort to limit the amount of quarantine cases related to COVID-19 and keep students in school.

Students have also returned to the cafeteria for lunch with some schools making exceptions based on sizes of individual grade levels.

“We continue to distance to the maximum extent possible,” he said.

Additionally, universal masking will continue to be in effect under the governor’s executive order and each school has revised dismissal procedures to determine the most efficient way to release students to parents who are not taking the bus.

Scarice said the district has also turned its attention to audience sizes since it is the time of year for school concerts and performances.

Prior to the recent hike in COVID cases, audiences were able to operate with 100 percent capacity. The Westport/Weston Health District and the district’s medical adviser asked the schools to limit audiences to accommodate appropriate distancing between family units due to the recent increase in infection rates.

Scarice said some schools might use alternative venues to accommodate all parents. More information will be provided by each school’s principal.

He said he recommends and expects all visitors will be vaccinated or test negative for COVID within 72 hours of attending a school concert or performance.

“We will continue to monitor conditions as we flexibly employ mitigating measures in response to the pandemic,” Scarice said. “While rates have increased recently, I want to assure our families that throughout the entire pandemic, like most school districts, we have experienced little to no virus spread in our schools.”

Serenity.bishop@hearstmediact.com