Westport school board discuss re-opening schools despite some uncertainty
WESTPORT — Despite the uncertainty of when schools will be ready to reopen, the district’s School Reopening Steering Committee is hard at work.
“The mission of the reopen committee is to prepare and present a plan for 2020-21 school year that really promotes effective learning for our students, but also takes into consideration and ensures the safety of all the members of our school community,” Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said at a Board of Education meeting on Monday.
Buono, who co-chairs the committee alongside John Bayers, human resources director, gave an update on the committee’s work. In addition to the steering committee, Buono said, four work groups have been established to look at different aspects of reopening.
“By the end of this week, our work groups will be fully constituted and they will have their initial meetings scheduled,” he said. “I think we’re in a really good position as far as this work is concerned.”
More groups may be needed, Buono said.
“It is going to be a dynamic process based on how things evolve and where we see the greatest needs are,” he said.
Bayers said an important part of the work includes collaborating with other districts and gathering information.
“I think that all of the districts around us realize we’re in a very similar position right now,” he said. “We’re all sharing ideas because we recognize this is new territory for everyone.”
BOE members had raised concern about reopening or closing schools multiple times next year and how new social distancing rules would be adhered to.
Buono said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Federation for Teachers are recommending smaller class sizes ranging from 10 to 15 students.
“There’s a variety of different recommendations out there,” Buono said. “The information we’re getting now is ‘yes if we do reopen, it’s not going to be a light switch....it’s going to be a more gradual process than that.’”
Bayers said the committee will look at various scenarios including opening as if nothing were different — in-school classes and no distance learning.
“You hear different ideas about whether or not you’re doing a combination or a hybrid of distance learning and in-person learning,” Bayers said. “We’re not committed to anything and I want the public to understand that right now.”
He said the committee is also reviewing scenarios in case the prevalence rate of COVID-19 causes another shutdown.
“The idea that we’re not able to open on time and must start the year in a distance-learning model is something we have to look at as well,” Bayers said. “That’s our responsibility — to provide you with as much information as we can.”
In other business, the BOE received an update on construction at Coleytown Middle School.
“We’re not going to be open by Sept. 1, but our October opening is still on schedule and everything is fine there,” CMS Building Committee Chair Don O’Day said.
The committee has also met with Coleytown principal Kris Szabo to discuss construction of the new entranceway, he said. The number of absences in construction staff has declined over the past weeks.
“Bottom line is there’s still an October opening and we’re still within budget and things are going well,” O’Day said.