Westport mandates vaccines for school visitors

Students leave Kings Highway Elementary School on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in response to the Covid-19 virus pandemic in Westport, Conn. The 2021-22 school year in Westport starts Aug. 31, 2021, and an array of COVID protection measures will be in place.

Students leave Kings Highway Elementary School on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in response to the Covid-19 virus pandemic in Westport, Conn. The 2021-22 school year in Westport starts Aug. 31, 2021, and an array of COVID protection measures will be in place.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

WESTPORT — Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice issued an updated set of guidelines for the new school year Friday, designed to help protect staff and students from COVID-19. Under these latest rules, visitors to Westport schools will need to be vaccinated, teachers (even vaccinated ones) will need to be masked, and there will be an option for outdoor lunch.

In a letter to families, Scarice detailed the latest provisions for the 2021-22 school year, which starts Tuesday. One of the first changes mentioned was that the district recently acquired tents “to provide students an opportunity to eat lunch outside for the first few months of the school year in an effort to thin out the number of students in the cafeteria.”

Scarice said in the letter that outdoor lunch would “offer an opportunity for fresh air and appropriate cover in the event of rain and wind. I suspect the outdoor lunch will be a big hit with our kids!”

The letter also mentioned an update to the school’s visitor policies. Scarice had already announced in a previous letter to families that visitors to school buildings will be limited to educational or school business needs and visitors would need to be approved by the building’s administration. In the latest guidelines, Scarice added a requirement that all visitors show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to enter the buildings.

Per an executive order from Gov. Ned Lamont, all school employees are already required to have the COVID-19 vaccine, and routine testing is required for any employees exempt from the requirement due to religious or medical reasons. Given that employees are required to be vaccinated, Scarice said, it made sense for visitors to show proof of vaccination too.

Lamont has also ordered that masks for students are required indoors at least until Sept. 30. The state does permit teachers to remove their masks during instruction, provided they are vaccinated, all students are wearing masks, and the teacher is at the front of the classroom at least six feet from any student.

But in his latest set of guidelines, Scarice said teachers will not be removing masks during instruction, at least for the time being.

“Although I welcome this change as we start the year, after some feedback, I am recommending that we wait a few weeks into the school year before implementing this provision,” he said. “This provision will be revisited later in September and (unmasking during instruction) will either be implemented or delayed, depending on the virus conditions.”

Scarice also announced that, as it was last year, Back to School Night will take place virtually.

“We are in the process of determining the most secure and reliable manner for our network to accommodate a live session for parents on Back to School Night,” he said. “Additional information will be provided in the next week or so with finalized plans, however, I can assure you that the night will be virtual.”

Scarice stressed that COVID measures will be reassessed every four-to-six weeks during the school year, “with an eye to peeling back layers of mitigation when possible so that our children can fully return to normalcy in our schools.”