By Jarret Liotta
Two items related to the COVID-19 crisis were addressed by the Board of Education (BOE) tonight, including paying stipends to the high school’s spring coaches.
Hoping to stay ahead of the curve, the BOE is also implementing a superintendent’s School Reopening Committee (SRC) to begin planning on how to proceed with logistics when the time comes.
“I believe this needs to be our primary goal for next year,” said Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent for teaching & learning, describing it as likely to be an extremely challenging endeavor.
He said several scenarios will have to be examined by a group that will include administrators, union representatives, a health official, one parent, one BOE member and four work group chairpersons of undetermined backgrounds.
Among these are schools reopening in September and remaining open, schools opening in September but then being forced to close again, and schools not opening until much later, at as-yet-undetermined date.
Buono said the goals of the committee will include the development and communication of health and education plans to the BOE and community.
“Another goal is that, if we don’t reopen schools, we have an effective distance-learning program in place,” he said, as it will likely be needed to at least some degree.
“We want to take what we learned from distance learning this year and really build that out in the event we’re in that same situation next year,” he said.
“A lot of the work will also be guided by things that are occurring at the state and national level,” said John Bayers, director of human resources & general administration, who was just appointed to First Selectman Jim Marpe’s ReOpen Westport Advisory Team.
He said part of the goal will be to coordinate protocols between the school district and other groups in the community to augment consistency for all residents.
He said subgroups of the SRC will look closer at health and safety issues, as well as facilities & operations, teaching & learning, and co-curricular activities.
Buono described the planning as a dynamic process and said that, given many unknowns, it might result in some kind of hybrid plan that includes both on-site and distance learning.
“I’m already hearing from parents, even if school is open, I don’t want to send my child,” BOE member Youn Su Chao said.
Buono said health concern could necessitate a split schedule, with separate groups of students attending in the morning and afternoon, and augmenting that time with distance learning from home.
BOE members raised the question of how closely the Board of Finance needed to be involved, but Superintendent of Schools David Abbey discouraged it at this point.
“I do think it’s important to publicize our work (but) I think in the end any kind of financial implication would have to be endorsed by the board first, and would have to be … embraced by the board,” he said.
Buono said they hoped to have some initial recommendations to the BOE at its June 8 meeting, with work continuing through the summer and into the next school year.
“I think this is a great start,” Chair Candice Savin said, noting that ideas generated in Westport could potentially be shared with the rest of the state.
BOE member Karen Kleine, who suggested a special education representative also serve on the committee, as well as a second BOE member, noted that how things roll out in New York City will play a key role in what happens in Westport.
“To me the biggest factor might be what New York City decides to do,” she said, with commuters and proximity potentially bringing a resurgence of illness back to Westport.
Earlier in the evening the BOE unanimously approved paying full stipends to the athletic coaches at Staples High School.
Chao said she felt the spirit of Gov. Ned Lamont’s order to maintain employees during the COVID-19 crisis was exemplified in giving the coaches their stipends, despite the different virtual versions of spring sports that is currently underway.
“I thank the parents for writing in and sharing the impact the coaches have been having on their students,” she said.
“I agree with that completely,” BOE member Elaine Whitney said.
“Our coaches are so important to our students on and off the field,” she said.
“They’re putting in a huge amount of time all year long …. It really is a labor of love,” she said.
“They’re actively involved in the kids’ lives,” said Marty Lisevick, athletic director, appearing before the board. “This is a terrible situation, but they’ve helped make it a better one.”