Westport students now have remote option in COVID-related cases

Photo of Katrina Koerting
Superintendent Thomas Scarice speaks at a meeting on Oct. 13, 2020.

Superintendent Thomas Scarice speaks at a meeting on Oct. 13, 2020.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

WESTPORT — The school district is temporarily rolling out a remote option for older students due to how many can’t be in school because of COVID.

“With the increase in numbers of students who are in isolation for a positive COVID test, in quarantine, or kept home due to COVID symptoms — we want all students and staff demonstrating any symptoms to stay home — we will be implementing an temporary learning model for students for the month of January,” Superintendent Thomas Scarice said in an email to families Wednesday.

The announcement is a temporary move from the district’s approach, which has also followed the state’s direction that remote learning doesn’t count as school days except for certain situations.

“From the outset of the school year, we have elected to restrict any remote opportunities to very limited exceptions,” Scarice said, adding this includes tutorials. “This is due to the diminished impact remote learning has on all learners as we experienced last year.”

While the state isn’t allowing remote learning like last year to count as school days this year, it does allow remote learning in certain situations.

These include students who must be in isolation because they have COVID, must quarantine because they are a close contact, students who live with relatives who have a documented unusual vulnerability to COVID-19 and in the rare cases a special needs profile determines instruction in the home provides the least restrictive learning environment.

Districts or schools can also go remote this school year if the governor or legislature issues an order to close schools.

Westport’s approach will allow middle and high school students who are in isolation or quarantining due to COVID, or are exhibiting symptoms, to observe lessons remotely beginning Monday through Jan. 28, Scarice said.

Some details still need to be addressed, he added. The technology team is working with staff this week and checking all of the equipment to “ensure success,” he said.

“We will revisit our cases and quarantines and determine if there is a need to extend this model,” Scarice said. “Our latest reports indicate a two-to-four week period of high transmission, which is expected to decline sharply thereafter.”

Westport had 148 total new cases this week for students and staff, as of Jan. 4, according to the district’s COVID dashboard.

Scarice said most students will miss less than five days of school due to the shortened isolation and quarantine periods, especially if they fall on a weekend.

“This accommodation will enable students to observe classroom instruction to remain current in the content taught,” Scarice said. “Our teachers will maintain their ‘in-class’ instructional approach, and students who cannot attend school for these three reasons will have access to observe and listen.”

He said this is “one of a number of efforts” the district is using to help keep students learning and reduce anxiety for students who can’t attend classes in-person.

“Our goal is to provide this accommodation in this emergency time period and return to normal in-person instruction as soon as the number of student absences for these three reasons decline,” Scarice said.

The accommodation is not intended to be misused, which unfortunately occurred too often last year, he said.

“It is only intended to serve those students who cannot attend school due to a required isolation, quarantine, or who are exhibiting symptoms,” he said.