Westport school reopening committee continues planning for uncertainties next school year

The Board of Education reviews the budget proposal at a meeting on Monday. Taken Feb. 10, 2020 in Westport, Conn.

The Board of Education reviews the budget proposal at a meeting on Monday. Taken Feb. 10, 2020 in Westport, Conn.

DJ Simmons/Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — While Coleytown Middle School is still on schedule to reopen in October, the Board of Education continued planning for the next school year in an ever-changing atmosphere.

“Things are changing constantly in terms of guidance and so forth,” said John Bayers, human resources director and co-chair of the School Reopening Steering Committee, at a meeting Monday. “That’s one of the things we’re working on with our group is being nimble, if you will, with the guidance changing as we move along.”

Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said the health and safety sub-work group will be important in guiding the committee’s work.

“Our plan is really to have some solid recommendations from the committee by the end of this month,” Buono, who also co-chairs the steering committee, said.

The committee has been comprised of a range of school officials and community members to prepare for the challenges in the fall including planning for a number of possible scenarios.

Buono said work is being done to shore up the distance learning program in case it’s needed again in the fall. He said a survey has been sent to the school community to get feedback on how it can be refined.

“The other part, which I think is probably the most likely case for September, is that we have some kind of hybrid model,” Buono said. “Which would be partially in school, allow us to do social distancing, but also there would be some face-to-face components for some of the grades and some of the levels.”

BOE member Lee Goldstein said guiding principals and a framework would be important to clearly outline the community’s priorities.

“I think even before there’s a definitive plan in place, we need to have really robust and honest conversations about everybody’s expectations and concerns about how things are going to look,” Goldstein said.

Board members also questioned how to work with families who may prefer to keep their children at home.

“We are definitely going to plan for those students that may not be able to come for the reasons that they have some health complication or somebody in their family potentially does, which can comprise them,” Buono said. “We would definitely be planning for that because I believe we’re obligated to.”

However, he said, offering two different programs based on family choice could have significant financial ramifications and an impact on staffing.

“I think we can talk about that and we should start to talk about that if the board feels like it’s something we want to seriously consider and look at,” Buono said. “I think it’s important for us to know ahead of time because it would require some additional work on the committee’s part.”

The Board of Education will give its feedback to the School Reopening Steering Committee at its next meeting on Monday.