Westport school board establishes reopening committee

Interim Superintendent David Abbey speaks at a BOE meeting on Monday. Taken Feb. 3, 2020 in Westport, Conn.

Interim Superintendent David Abbey speaks at a BOE meeting on Monday. Taken Feb. 3, 2020 in Westport, Conn.

DJ Simmons/Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — The Board of Education showed support in its first view of the framework of a new schools reopening committee.

“I believe that this needs to be our primary goal for next year — if not our only goal for next year — because it really is going to be dynamic and challenging,” Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said at a BOE meeting Monday.

The mission of the committee is to prepare plans that will ensure the safety of students and staff once school resumes next fall, he said.

“Another goal is if we don’t reopen schools, we have an effective distance learning program in place and prepared to transition to if closures go beyond this year, or if they occur at some point in the next school year,” Bayers said.

The committee will be comprised of 11 people including Buono, who will co-chair alongside John Bayers, human resources director for the district. The rest of the group will include a school board member, a health official, a parent representative, union representatives and administrators.

Buono said the committee will have four subgroups that focus on health and safety, facilities and operations, teaching and learning, and co-curricular activities.

“This is dynamic. As we continue and get into this work, we may expand and add work groups,” he said.

Buono said the committee will need to plan for a scenario that relies solely on distance learning, a plan for students back in the school buildings and a hybrid plan that includes on-site and distance learning.

Bayers, who also sits on the town’s emergency operations team, said the committee will need to review executive orders by Gov. Ned Lamont throughout the process.

“Some of the state statues that we have are ones that are waived at the moment and we’ll have to pay attention to how those evolve over the course of the summer and into next school year,” he said.

Bayers said the committee and its work groups will make initial recommendations at the BOE meeting on June 8.

Board members largely showed support for the committee, but BOE member Karen Kleine suggested a special education representative and another BOE member be added.

Kleine said a big factor the committee will also have to be aware of is how and when New York City reopens.

“The way I see this coming back into Westport is from everybody from our community going back into the city to work and then coming back home again,” Kleine said.

She added the committee should discuss limiting the need to constantly close and reopen the schools if the virus returns.

“We don’t want to be yanking people back and forth from school and home,” she said.

In other business, the BOE unanimously approved paying the full stipends to Staples High School’s athletic coaches.

BOE Vice Chair Jeanne Smith said all of the coaches who worked with the high school were also heavily involved in youth programs throughout the town.

“This goes far beyond what we can imagine just in terms of their excellence and creativity,” Smith said.

Marty Lisevick, athletic director, said despite the district’s closure all of the athletic coaches have been active with their teams. He said one example of the work ongoing was the girls track community service project, which raised $6,000 for Stamford Community Hospital.

“Every single program is doing something like this,” Lisevick said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the kids or what the coaches are doing.”