Westport Schools considering changes to COVID measures

Students arrive for the first day of classes at Coleytown Middle School, in Westport, Conn. Aug. 31, 2021.

Students arrive for the first day of classes at Coleytown Middle School, in Westport, Conn. Aug. 31, 2021.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — School officials are considering changing several of the district’s COVID-19 mitigation measures with positivity rates plummeting and vaccination rates increasing over the last few weeks.

Some of the areas subject to change include the K-6 weekly serial COVID testing, dismissal and lunch, as well as relaxing the vaccination requirement for school visitors.

Superintendent Thomas Scarice said the school district has not experienced one case in schools in nearly two weeks.

“Fortunately, COVID infection rates have hovered at levels we have not seen since May,” Scarice said in an update to families.

With these developments, Westport has been considering relaxing many of the COVID mitigating measures.

“Staying consistent with our four-to-six week increment analysis, it is anticipated that we will relax and modify our measures in a number of areas,” he added.

Two areas that are under consideration include lunch and dismissal. With the weather cooling and infection rates low, the school plans to bring students back to the cafeteria while maintaining maximum distance between the students.

Each school will revisit dismissal procedures to make the process most efficient. Scarice said the plan may result in students who don’t take the bus being released to their parents from a common area, however, the plan can change depending on the makeup of the school such as the driveway capacity or traffic flow.

The voluntary weekly serial COVID testing program for K-6 is also set to end at the conclusion of November, pending the infection rates.

Universal masking will continue to be in effect under the governor’s executive order, however, Scarice said the governor has indicated that he may revisit the provision after the new year.

Westport also plans to consider changing the vaccination requirement for school visitors, the size of parents groups that are allowed to enter the school and the rules surrounding parent teacher conferences.

Since the beginning of the school year, Westport has required proof of vaccination from school visitors. Scarice said they “will relax the vaccination requirement for visitors in the near future.” However, Westport cannot modify the requirement for employees as that is an executive order from the governor’s office.

Lastly, a new initiative that Westport will be using includes a modified procedure called “Screen and Stay.” The Connecticut Department of Public Health issued the new guidance to allow “close contacts” to stay in school with certain caveats.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced that the imitative is an effort to limit the amount of quarantine cases related to COVID-19 and keep students in school.

“Quarantines have been a necessary, yet highly disruptive mitigating measure throughout the entire pandemic,” Scarice said.

Screen and Stay will be offered if the contact occurred during the school day, during brief unmasked periods, if supervised by staff outdoors or if both the contact and the case were masked during the exposure indoors.

“All of these proposed modifications are subject to change pending infection rates,” Scarice said.

While these modifications are being considered, an important key to the change is the percentage of vaccination rates.

As of Nov. 3, 93.4 percent of residents ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated, according to state data, and the Pfizer vaccine has recently been approved for 5 to 11 year-olds.

Westport Public Schools has partnered with the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, Bay Street Pediatrics, Village Pediatrics, Willows Pediatric Group and the Westport Weston Health District to offer a COVID-19 vaccine clinic for Westport students within that new age bracket.

Scarice said the district “quickly” registered nearly 1,000 K-6 students.

The first dose of the Pfizer 5-11 vaccine will be offered on Nov. 13, and the second dose will be offered on Dec. 4. Both rounds of the vaccine will be administered in the Staples High School Field House.