Staples High School students to return to classrooms full-time

Photo of Katrina Koerting
Students leave Staples High School on the announcement that Westport Schools will be closed for the unforeseeable future on March 11, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

Students leave Staples High School on the announcement that Westport Schools will be closed for the unforeseeable future on March 11, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

WESTPORT — Staples High School students will return to full in-person learning next week, Superintendent Thomas Scarice has announced.

The transition takes place next Thursday, the latest in a series of moves to fully reopen the district’s schools. The elementary and middle schools already returned to full in-person learning about seven weeks ago, and on March 1, the high school implemented a 75 percent in-person model with students attending in person three days a week.

“Since then, our faculty and staff have done a remarkable job and we have experienced great success,” Scarice said in an email to families and staff on Wednesday. “The work of our professional educators this year simply cannot be overstated.”

The Wednesday early dismissals will continue “for the foreseeable future” to provide additional support for distance learners and accommodate teachers who took on more responsibilities for arrival and dismissal. Staples will begin in-person learning on the Wednesday early dismissals though beginning on April 21. There might be changes to the middle schools’ schedule after April break, Scarice said.

He said the district maintained a very conservative approach to the schooling models for the first half of the year and are now working to safely reopen.

“We continue to maintain a responsibility to minimizing virus spread in our community,” Scarice said. “Yet, we must balance that responsibility with our obligations to overall student wellness, most significantly, their mental and emotional well-being.”

There are some tweaks to the new schedule though as teachers and school staff get their second doses of the COVID vaccine with clinics on April 1 and 8.

Middle and high school students will have a full day of in-person learning on March 31 and April 7 and half-day remote learning on April 1 and 8. Elementary students will also have a full in-person day on March 31 and April 7, but will have half-day in-person learning on the clinic days.

Preschool students will only have an in-person morning session on the clinic days.

Scarice also announced changes to the contact tracing and quarantine policies based on reviewing local data.

He said the district has conducted contact tracing and quarantined more than 2,800 students and adults this year. Of those, only six who were determined to be close contacts tested positive for COVID.

“Additionally, to our knowledge, of the 232 students who have tested positive for COVID, there have been zero known cases of ‘student to adult virus transmission,’ and zero known cases of students experiencing serious health complications as a result of infection,” Scarice said.

The school district, in consultation with the health district, will now define a close contact as someone within three feet of the positive case for 15 minutes instead of 6 feet.

“Recent literature has pointed to this change in guidance,” he said. “Considering that our entire population is masked at all times, our local health district and medical advisor support this change as well. We will continue to monitor our practices and make adjustments as needed.”

Quarantines will remain 10 days long, based on data trends.

Scarice said they are looking at these positive trends and the vaccine rollout as they gear up for the end of the year.

“We have placed a high priority on ending the year with as much ‘normalcy’ as possible,” he said. “Our thinking is that the more normalcy we end the year with, the easier it will be to start the new year with normalcy. As we plan our end of year events and the day to day operations, we will look to continue to bring a sense of normalcy to our schools.”

kkoerting@newstimes.com