Westport schools consider COVID-19 restrictions for fall

Photo of Katrina Koerting
Coleytown Middle School French teacher Sharon Gardener instructs her class at the newly renovated school on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, in Westport, Conn.

Coleytown Middle School French teacher Sharon Gardener instructs her class at the newly renovated school on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, in Westport, Conn.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — There will be restrictions when students return to school at the end of the month, though officials are determining just how rigorous they will be.

Most officials see this year being closer to normal than last year, though it’s likely there will still be mask requirements, social distancing and quarantining to some extent.

“Everything is changing so quickly day to day,” Susanne Levasseur, the district’s supervisor of health services, said at a special school board meeting this week.

She added they will continue to watch the recommendations and get together with the health district officials.

“(We’ll) be able to make some concrete decisions moving forward shortly or in a couple of weeks when things settle a little and more of the recommendations are solidified,” Levasseur said.

Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, is currently advised to wear masks in indoor school settings across the country, though not outdoors, according to the most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state is expected to give its own guidance in the coming days, though the health department is recommending everyone wear masks inside due to the increase in cases.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order on masking in school buildings is extended until Sept. 30.

“When we started the school year last year, we were masking outside for recess a lot of the time, masking for PE, and we let that go at the end of the year with the new data that shows it’s not easily transmitted outside, so that’s a good thing,” Levasseur said. “So when we talk about masking at this point, we’re really talking about inside. There is definitely a distinction between inside and outside.”

Inside includes school buses.

The art and music guidance is also expected to remain where it was at the end of the last school year.

However, there are already some differences expected going into the fall, based on the current advise from health officials.

The social distancing is now down to 3 feet from 6, which factors into the contact tracing and how many students would be required to quarantine if there is a positive case.

“I anticipate if this stays the same then we will need to do less quarantining of entire classrooms, which is a good thing,” Levasseur said.

Food service is also expected to return to normal.

Even with the restrictions, school officials said they are in a much better place than they were at this time last year when they were preparing for remote learning. There’s a priority for in-person learning now and fall sports have gotten the clearance to go ahead, officials said.

There is also less of an emphasis from the state on surface cleaning based on transmission data.

“They have said repeatedly that it’s not really transmissible on surfaces so they are just recommending at this point routine cleaning,” Lavasseur said.

She said that while the cases are increasing locally, within the state and nationally due to the delta variant, the number is relatively low for Westport, partly because more people are vaccinated in town than other places.

“That’s certainly very positive,” Levasseur said.

A little more than 72 percent of Westport residents were vaccinated as of July 28, compared to about 60 percent for the whole state, according to the most recent report from the state Department of Public Health.

Levasseur said there were also no positive cases reported in any of the summer programs.

Officials acknowledged that the recommendations and COVID situation is constantly changing.

“The one thing we know for sure is we don’t know much for sure,” said Chairwoman Candice Savin.