Tuesday, December 07, 2021

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Education

Superintendent: Schools to Reopen March 26

Abbey said students will engage in distance learning in the meantime and the April 6-10 break will take place as scheduled.

“Understandably, we have been receiving questions regarding the degree of risk that exists in our schools,” Abbey said.

“According to the WWHD, because we are in the community transmission phase of the disease, being associated with our schools does not make anyone at our schools at greater or lesser risk than anyone else in the Westport community.”

The text of the email:

Dear Westport Families,

Over the past several days there have been significant developments concerning national, state and local efforts to counter the spread of COVID-19, which has been determined to be a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Governor Lamont has declared a state emergency and earlier today President Trump declared a national emergency. Locally, the District is taking our lead from the Westport Weston Health District (WWHD) through Mark Cooper, Director of Health, and the leadership provided by First Selectman Jim Marpe, through the Town’s Incident Command Structure.

180 Day Waiver

By Executive Order, the Governor has established June 30, 2020, as the last possible day of school in Connecticut. This will be the case even if the current school year results in fewer than 180 days. Governor Lamont’s waiver of the 180 day requirement does not mean that districts do not have to add days to their calendars in the event of closings due to COVID-19. It does mean that if events are such that despite reasonable efforts, districts cannot meet the 180 day requirement by adding days or limiting vacations, it would be acceptable to have fewer than 180 days of instruction.

School Reopening

District schools closed as of yesterday, March 12, 2020. Schools will remain closed through Wednesday, March 25th. During this time we will be consulting with the WWHD to evaluate COVID-19 status and its potential risk to our students and educational community. As of today, we are planning to reopen district schools on Thursday, March 26th. While schools are closed to students and staff, custodians will be deep cleaning our schools so that they will be in excellent shape for reopening. We are grateful for the dedication and hard work our custodians have contributed, from day one, with respect to helping mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Distance Learning

The State Department of Education (SDE) has strongly recommended that districts that have to close due to COVID-19, make-up lost days. During days when school is not in session they further recommend that schools provide supplemental academic activities for students. Toward that end, for the past few weeks our teachers and administrators have been hard at work developing activities consistent with the supplemental approach recommended by the SDE.

The SDE also has established a waiver application process, which if approved, allows districts to develop and implement a distance learning plan during school closures. Members of the Board of Education, along with parents and teachers, have strongly advocated for the shift from a supplemental to a distance learning approach - and we have responded to their concerns and suggestions.

The Westport distance learning plan is designed to provide for the continuity of learning for every student, including those with special needs. In the event that some special education services cannot be provided through distance learning, services will be addressed on a compensatory basis through the Planning and Placement (PPT) process. Depending upon the availability of school days, compensatory services will be added to the school calendar, before June 30, 2020, or through Extended School year (ESY) services, after July 1, 2020. As of last week, all students in grades 3-8 have been issued Chromebooks and the district is taking measures to ensure that all students will have access to the internet.

Today, the SDE has notified us that they have received our application for a waiver. We are waiting to hear whether we have been approved. If so, we plan to make the transition to distance learning by Tuesday, March 17th or Wednesday, March 18th. We have developed the distance learning plan in partnership with the WEA (Teachers’ Union) and we will be communicating more detailed information about the plan over the next few days.

Spring Vacation

Because distance learning days count as school days, as of today, our spring vacation, scheduled for April 6 – April 10th is a “go” as scheduled.

COVID-19 Risk

Understandably, we have been receiving questions regarding the degree of risk that exists in our schools. According to the WWHD, because we are in the community transmission phase of the disease, being associated with our schools does not make anyone at our schools at greater or lesser risk than anyone else in the Westport community.

Please note that no personally identifiable information for persons who have tested positive for COVID-19 has been shared with the district. This includes names or school affiliation. WWHD, as our community authority, maintains that information and, as appropriate, notifies persons deemed at risk. In addition, state statute prohibits the release of all such information unless specifically authorized by the State Public Health Commissioner. The WWHD website is an excellent source of COVID-19 related information and local updates.

http://wwhd.org/

Going forward, we will continue to provide updates during this difficult and complex time. And, we will do our best to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, toward the goal of providing healthy schools for our students and staff. In the interim, for additional information and a number of useful links, I recommend that you view the district homepage under Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates. https://www.westportps.org.

Bon Voyage Party Cited for Coronavirus Shutdown

Regarding party attendees who are now experiencing flu-like symptoms, Cooper said they should “make the assumption they have COVID-19.”

“We are in the process of getting a list of all the attendees at the party,” he said.

The announcement touched off a flood of Facebook conversations with some parents saying officials should at least have named the school attended by student guests or cited the neighborhood party location.

Cooper made his announcement at a news conference on the steps of Town Hall, a symbolic gesture as the public and press were kept at arm’s length from the building.

The news conference had been called by First Selectman Jim Marpe, who together with Cooper and town officials announced that Town Hall, except for essential services, will remain closed to the public for the foreseeable future because of the coronavirus.

Marpe said Town Hall will be sanitized this week, and that all town meetings would be canceled.

“We want to make sure that Town Hall doesn’t become a center for the transmission of COVID-19,” said Marpe.

“Our utmost concern is for the safety of our residents and the safety of our employees,” he added.

Also closed as of today are the Westport Center for Senior Activities, the teen center and the Westport Library.

Bill Harmer, the library’s executive director, said the building would be closed for “deep cleaning and will open on Monday but only for essential services.”

Those services include residents who want to ask reference questions or to take out books, though Harmer suggested e-books.”

“I recognize that these are tough decisions,” Marpe said. “But we know that this is a disease passed on by close contact with other human beings.”

He discouraged public gatherings, even young people congregating or playing on the town’s athletic fields.

Marpe’s announcement came on the heels of the World Health Organization (WHO) today declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic.

Two hours before Marpe’s announcement, Interim Schools Superintendent David Abbey emailed parents that the town’s schools would be closed until further notice.

Schools Provide Virus Update

If the decision is made to close school beyond a few days, activities, to the extent possible, will be provided to students and families that would allow for continuity of learning and to help students transition back to school.  These activities are encouraged, but not required.  Activities are intended to:

keep students academically active;
reinforce and sustain current learning; and
preview curricular content.

These activities will not be graded and students will not be required to submit completed work.  There are many opportunities for students to engage in appropriate learning activities through their Chromebooks (grades three through eight), which all students in those grades should have at home.

Special Education

Many students receiving special education and related services will be able to access the learning materials that are being sent home from classroom teachers. 

Some work has been modified for specific student learning needs.  In addition, where appropriate, related services providers (occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech/language pathologists, social workers and school psychologists) have provided activities that can occur at home.  None of these learning materials are meant to replace instruction; rather it is provided to engage students while they are home.

Once school reopens, student services will resume.  School days missed will be made up as described above.

Future Communication

We will continue to share pertinent information with regard to this rapidly evolving challenge. In the interim, we encourage all families and staff members to take part in every-day preventive practices to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and maintain healthy school environments.

Virus Contact Forces School Closure

Westport schools will close until further notice after today’s dismissal because of the coronavirus, Interim Superintendent David Abbey announced.

WestportNow.com Image
Students leave Westport’s Bedford Middle School today unsure when they will return. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“We have just learned that a number of Westport parents and Westport Public School students, in schools throughout our district, were in contact with an individual presumed to be positive with coronavirus,” he said in an email to parents.

“Based upon discussions with and at the direction of Mr. Mark Cooper, Director of Health for the Westport Weston Health District, the Westport School District will be closed until further notice following today’s regularly scheduled dismissal.

“This includes all after-school and evening activities, including athletics. We will immediately begin deep cleaning our schools and in conjunction with the Westport Weston Health District will be consulting with state and federal officials.”

 

Third, Fourth, and Fifth Graders to Take Home Chromebooks

The Internet at home, when accessed on the Chromebooks, will be filtered by the school’s firewall and use the school’s settings.

Students do not have to use the school issued Chromebooks if a parent would prefer the student use a family device using the family filter settings.

While the Chromebooks are personally assigned, students must demonstrate good digital citizenship and follow the District’s Acceptable Use Policy. 

Use of the school system’s network is not private and the District reserves the right to monitor use to ensure compliance with the Acceptable Use Policy.

Schools on 3-Hour Delay Tuesday for Virus Contingency Planning

The Westport schools will be on a three-hour delay Tuesday so staff members can work on coronavirus contingency planning.

“This delayed opening will provide additional planning time necessary for staff members to complete much of the work associated with developing instructional materials, including online lessons, in the event of a prolonged school closing,” said an email to parents from David Abbey, Interim Superintendent of Schools

“All schools will open three hours later than usual for students and all buses will run three hours later than usual.  For Stepping Stones, our preschool, please consult the school’s website for the standard delay information posted online. http://ssp.westportps.org/”

Abbey added; ‘I realize this is a schedule disruption and I am sorry for the inconvenience; however, given the rapidly moving environment associated with Coronavirus (COVID-19), it is essential that we prepare for the possibility of home-based learning.”

Update From Superintendent on Virus Preparations

Handwashing

As of Monday, March 11th, immediately after recess, and prior to eating lunch in the cafeteria, all students in grades K-5 will wash their hands with soap and water. Logistically, this will be accomplished by teachers and paraprofessionals bringing students to restrooms situated throughout the building. At the elementary schools, school nurses have done handwashing instruction and disease prevention strategies through morning announcements or through individual classroom sessions.

At Stepping Stones, our preschool students, assisted by teachers and paraprofessionals, will wash their hands with soap and water after morning unpacking, before snack and lunch, after coming in from the playground, and after using the bathroom.

At the middle school, staff encourage students to wash their hands with soap and water, and students are reminded to do so through digital messaging throughout the building.

At the high school, students have been reminded of everyday preventive practices, including hand washing, during Connections, their advisory period.

At all district schools, signage is present in restrooms and other locations, as a reminder about the importance of hand washing.

Cleaning Agents

Cleaning agents used in our schools are consistent with state requirements and meet the “green” standards established by our district “Tools-for-Schools” program. The custodial staff uses PC-103, which is effective against COVID-19 as are the hand wipes utilized by custodial staff. Yesterday, March 5th, we received authorization from the State Department of Administrative Services to use chlorine bleach disinfectants. We will be procuring chlorine based products as another level of protection to aid in the control or spread of the virus.

Throughout the district, surface areas in classrooms, such as desks, are cleaned nightly with disposable wipes.

We have placed alcohol-based (70%) hand sanitizers in all of our classrooms for student and teacher use. If they have the inclination to do so, parents should feel free to provide their children with a bottle of hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes for their children to use in school.

Attached is a memorandum regarding district cleaning protocols in our schools, placed on our district website on March 3rd.

Bus Transportation

Dattco, our bus transportation carrier, is responding to COVID-19 through increasing its bus cleaning efforts. For example, they have informed us that school bus interior “high traffic” surfaces will be wiped down on a regular basis with disinfectant sprays and disposable towels. On the personnel side, drivers who exhibit or report illness symptoms will be encouraged not to report to work until they are asymptomatic.

School Closings

As the State Department of Education has directed: “Absent an emergency declaration from the Office of the Governor or Federal Government, school closures are local decisions made by the school district in coordination with and at the direction of the local health officials.”

In the Westport Public Schools, we monitor student health on a district-wide basis by tracking student absentee rates as well as monitoring students with influenza-like illness. Students with influenza-like symptoms are sent to our school nurses, evaluated, and if warranted, parents are called to take their children home.

Our protocols and approach to COVID-19 are being implemented and updated through close consultation with the Westport Weston Health District. It is impossible to plan for every possibility, as each situation is unique; however, if a student or staff member at a particular school is determined to have COVID-19, it is highly likely that the impacted school would be closed for 14 days.

Siblings of students with COVID-19 who attend other schools in our district would be requested and expected to remain at home for 14 days. Likewise, staff members with family members or close contacts that are determined to have COVID-19, will be requested and expected to remain at home for 14 days.

Given that each situation is different, our response to specific situations will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Decisions will be made in consultation with the Westport Weston Health District, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the Connecticut State Department of Public Health.

Continuity of Teaching and Learning

Under the leadership of Dr. Anthony Buono, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, and in conjunction with Principals, Curriculum Coordinators and Teachers, we are developing a number of strategies that, in the event of a school or district closing, will allow for a degree of home-based instructional continuity.

Because we are asking our educators to plan for the possibility of school closings at the same time they are providing day-to-day instruction, we will have to redeploy some staff members, during the course of the day, in order to provide them with time to plan. 

We will continue to share pertinent information with respect to this rapidly evolving challenge. In the interim, we encourage all families and staff members to take part in every-day preventative practices toward the objective of helping us maintain a healthy school environment.

Below are helpful links for families, which includes information tips for talking with children about an infectious disease outbreak.

Sincerely,

David Abbey                                           Suzanne Levasseur, MSN, CPNP, APRN
Interim Superintendent of Schools                   Supervisor of Health Services


https://www.cdc.gov/

https://portal.ct.gov/DPH/Public-Health-Preparedness/Main-Page/2019-Novel-Coronavirus

Talking With Children Tips for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreaks

Coleytown Cause of Biggest Jump in School Budget

“We’ve had some threes (3% increases), but this is the highest,” said Longo, citing the scheduled reopening on CMS in late August and the hiring of nine full-time equivalent (FTE) staff at the school.

The cost of the FTEs, which include 5.5 certified staff, including an assistant principal, and 3.5 noncertified staff, is $990,120, Longo said.

In addition, the school budget takes into account the infusion of $839,905 for systemwide facilities upgrades .

The scheduled upgrades are a consequence of a facilities report by Antinozzi Associates, a Bridgeport-based architecture and engineering company that has recommended $96 million in maintenance upgrades over the next 10 years.

Longo said that 80.7% of the school budget is due to salaries and benefits, 60% and 20% respectively.

“That means 81-cents on the dollar goes to salaries and benefits,” he said, adding that 3.9% of the proposed 4.24% increase comprises the current services budget addressing all contractual increases.

Eight Staples Students Are Merit Scholarship Finalists

WestportNow.com Image
Eight Staples High School seniors have been named finalists in the 2020 National Merit Scholarship Program.  Each has a chance to earn one of 7,500 National Merit Scholarship awards, together worth more than $35 million.  Pictured (l-r) are  Benjamin A. Spector, Alexander James Massoud, Samuel A. Laskin, Nora B. Dockter, Nathan E. Wang. and Harrison E. Sholler. Missing from the picture are Cordelia Chen and Justin Berg. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo