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BOE Hears Early Reopening Plans

By Jarret Liotta

The Board of Education (BOE) got its first official look at some of the plans and protocols to potentially be put in place for bringing the school population back to school in the fall.

Last week the state announced the edict that it wants to see all Connecticut students back in school in person for the 2020-21 school year.

Monday night members of Westport’s School Reopening Committee gave detailed reports on facets of their work over the past month with the proviso that they haven’t had the chance to incorporate new state guidelines, including more details that came from the state only Monday afternoon.

“This is a work in progress,” said Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, who co-chairs the committee.

“These are not recommendations at this point,” he said. “These are just ideas and things that are being developed.”

Health and safety will ultimately drive the various accommodations and changes that will need to be put in place, such as removal of water fountains and air-blow hand dryers.

In order to accommodate social distancing, the state is advocating that districts focus on creating cohorts of students, which would strive to keep small groups together throughout the day — something more manageable to do with elementary students.

BOE member Karen Kleine expressed concern about how things would be impacted at Staples High School with regard to social distancing.

“We’re being so careful about what’s happening at the elementary school and what’s happening at the middle school (but) then Staples is going to look just like it looks now,” she said. “The hallways are crowded. People are going in both directions. Some of the classes are crowded.”

“I’m just wondering how consistent we can be,” she said.

“We are still looking at different schedules and different ways that we could allow for social distancing and minimize the transitions and interactions for students during the course of the day,” Buono said, including minimizing class size.

“We’ll make recommendations after we fully vet these ideas,” he said.

“We want our students and staff to feel that they’re safe when they come back,” said Suzanne Levassuer, supervisor of health services.

“I am confident that we will be able to open safely,” she said, noting that while there are challenges, such as having younger students maintain mask use, they’ll be able to meet them, even in the crowded case of Bedford Middle School which for at least the first two months of the school year will continue housing Coleytown Middle School students as well.

BOE member Vik Muktavaram, who stepped down from the board as of Monday night, raised the question of whether people would feel comfortable — staff and students alike — in being in the building.

“I just want to reiterate that it’s important to sort of consider the aspect of confidence in terms of people,” he said.

“I think communication is key in allowing families and staff to speak to us directly or contact us easily with any concerns they have and addressing them then,” Levassuer said.

A number of residents submitted public comment on the situation, including several parents who asked about including more parent input, particularly in the area of teaching and learning.

“To leave us out of the critical strategic decision-making seems irresponsible,” said parent Amy Herrera.

“I think parents would be valuable contributors in this committee … We have insights into how our children adjusted and why,” said parent Sarin Cheung.

Buono said he agreed and that parent feedback would be sought before plans were submitted to the state on July 24.

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