Westport school leader asks for 'patience' with reopening plan

Bedford Middle School Principal Adam Rosen gives students a warm welcome on the first day back at Bedford Middle School. Taken Aug. 27, 2019 in Westport, CT.

Bedford Middle School Principal Adam Rosen gives students a warm welcome on the first day back at Bedford Middle School. Taken Aug. 27, 2019 in Westport, CT.

Lynandro Simmons/Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — School officials asked for patience from the community after presenting the latest draft of the district’s re-opening plan on Thursday.

“We do not see this plan as the final plan by any stretch of the imagination,” Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said at a Board of Education meeting Thursday. “I see this as a first draft and I think that’s what all of us are seeing it as, and we felt it was important that we got it out as soon as possible so we could begin to get feedback and get suggestions — because that’s what’s going to help us come up with a final plan.”

Districts across the state were required to submit three plans to the state Department of Education by Friday for reopening in the fall: a full reopening with in-person learning, a distance learning model and a hybrid model combining both.

District officials outlined hybrid models at all school levels that would include splitting students into self-contained groups alphabetically.

At the elementary level, students would attend school in-person Monday and Wednesday for one group, or Tuesday and Thursday for the other. One cohort of middle school students would attend school in-person on Monday, Wednesday and Friday the first week and then Tuesday and Thursday on the second week. The second cohort’s schedule would work in reverse.

At the high school level, one group of students would attend in-person two days consecutively and then the second group would do the same. The groups would have one half day every other week on Friday on a rotating basis.

Bedford Middle School principal Adam Rosen said officials have worked to align models at all school levels for operational purposes.

“For example, our transportation system has to accommodate all three levels so there has to be some kind of coordination between the three levels for that to happen,” he said.

School board members voiced concern on social distancing at the middle school and high school level, and differentiating between the in-person model and hybrid model. A recent community survey showed at least 10 percent of families may still choose to keep their children home even with the in-person model.

Board member Lee Goldstein said she didn’t believe the in-person learning model presented for Bedford and Coleytown middle schools was safe. The two schools’ population will again be merged at BMS for the early part of the school year until construction is done at CMS.

“I think when we talk about local districts having discretion, this is a place where Westport has a very specific circumstance with two schools in that one building,” she said, “and it seems crazy to me to try and put all those kids in there.”

Members also pointed out a reduction in class time for students with the high school in-person model.

But Superintendent Thomas Scarice cautioned the board and school community that plans were not finalized and would continue to be vetted.

“We will continue to work on the plan, but just be patient,” Scarice said. “We still have until the end of August before we really decide what’s going to happen.”

Board Chair Candice Savin said she believed parents are still craving to learn the protocols of what will happen if there is a case of COVID-19 in the schools once they are reopened.

Suzanne Levasseur, the district’s health services supervisor, said schools are waiting for the state Department of Health to give guidelines for when closures may be needed.

“But I think they’re waiting what happens in the next couple of weeks, especially as we’re seeing all these other states with incidents rising how that’s going to affect us,” she said. “I think they’re reluctant to give information too quickly and then have to go back.”

But Scarice assured protocols will be put in place before reopening.

“I want to be very, very clear that that’s mandatory to open up our schools — to have that protocol,” he said.