Friday, August 12, 2022

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Information from Superintendent Scarice

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice today issued the following update to school families:

Good afternoon,
I would like to provide the school community with a number of updates.

COVID-19 Positive Case Reporting System
Case numbers are rising rather significantly. Westport experienced 26 new cases just this past weekend. Similar totals are being reported from around the region. The number of cases entering our schools is growing quickly. In order to keep up with the reporting of positive cases we have developed a COVID-19 reporting hotline to report positive cases only. The number is 203-341-1016. Also, an email can be sent to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). If your child has tested positive for COVID-19 please use one of these two methods to communicate to the schools. You may also contact your school nurse for any follow up information. See this link for more information: https://www.westportps.org/district/hidden-pages/new-pagestudentpositivecovidreport.

COVID-19 Symptoms? Stay Home
If your child is exhibiting ANY COVID-19 symptoms it is critically important that your child stay home from school and that you contact your pediatrician to determine if a COVID-19 test is appropriate. This small measure goes a long way in protecting countless children and adults. For the list of symptoms please see this https://www.westportps.org/district/hidden-pages/new-pagestudentpositivecovidreport

Been Tested for COVID-19? Stay Home
If your child has been tested for COVID-19 and you are waiting for results it is imperative that your child stay home until the results are provided. There is no exception to this expectation. If you have additional questions about this please contact your school nurse or our Director of Health Services, Sue Levasseur .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Travelling? Read the Guidelines
With the holiday seasons upon us, many families will travel. There is explicit guidance on travel that is important to be mindful of. Please see the guidance on travel here https://portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus/travel.

Gathering Informally with Friends and Family? Be Cautious
Last week on the weekly call with the Department of Public Health it was shared that local health districts are not reporting spread of the virus in school settings, but they are seeing significant spread at youth sporting events, parties, informal gatherings, and across informal settings in communities. Schools are demonstrating resilience in preventing spread in our buildings. The virus enters, but the spread is minimized and even prevented in most cases. That said, it is critically important that parents are as vigilant as schools when their children are engaged in outside activities such as those listed above. Our ability to keep our schools open depends on this vigilance in the community.

Quarantines, Testing, and Contact Tracing
Many questions emerge based on the guidance provided to the school district by the CT Department of Public Health and CDC regarding quarantines, testing and contact tracing. I will not try to capture all of these questions in this message but only to point you to your school nurse, or our Director of Health Services, Sue Levasseur (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)), if you have questions about these processes.

Next Steps
On October 13, based on conversations with public health experts, I recommended that the district maintain the current hybrid learning model and reassess in 4-6 weeks. My contention was that if the projections were accurate, virus spread would necessitate the hybrid model at best in the face of high transmission rates at this time in November. Additionally, particularly at the elementary level, I assessed that the half day AM/PM model was preferable to a full capacity “pandemic classroom” for a 4-6 week window of time.

Today is exactly four weeks later. On October 13, according to http://www.covidactnow.org, the rate of new cases per 100,000 people in Fairfield County was 7.3. Today, it is 39.4 per 100,000 people. This is an exponential increase and precisely what was projected by public health experts.

We will continue to monitor the rates and pay particular attention to any evidence of virus spread in our schools, as well as our ability to staff our buildings with quarantine numbers growing.

That said, we are preparing for all scenarios. This flexibility is necessary this year.

At some point, sooner or later, we will be prepared to return to full capacity. We will monitor the impact of the virus in making that determination. I am encouraged by the fact that student spread in schools across the state has been minimal. The state Department of Public Health has adjusted their guidance to reflect this trend by developing a continuum of flexibility in determining learning models (i.e. fully in, fully remote, hybrid), rather than rigid transition points based on the data. (Addendum 4: https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/SDE/COVID-19/Addendum-4-Interim-Guidance-for-DecisionMaking-Regarding-the-Use-of-InPerson-Hybrid-Blended-or-Remot.pdf)

In response, we are currently developing models that will give us the ability to cast a wider net so that we are not locked into just three options (i.e. fully in, fully remote, 50% hybrid). The continuum approach has initiated a process where we can consider student capacity between 50%-100%.  When fully developed, we can nimbly change our models to respond to changes in the impact of the virus, virus trends, etc.  Incremental increases in student capacity can precede a full return with this approach.

However, given the foreboding trend in the virus transmission rates, we are concurrently sharpening our fully remote model in the event that intermittent, or extended, remote learning is necessary. Virus transmission in schools, the community, and our ability to continue to fully staff our schools will be among a number of considerations in this regard.

As Staples High School Principal Stafford Thomas commented to me a few weeks ago, we are engaged in what feels like a decathlon. We will be faced with multiple challenges over a long period of time. I see this school year in 4-6 week increments. I will approach decisions in the same manner. This is not a sprint. We will meet each challenge before us, one by one, and move on to the next.

Thank you for your support,
Thomas Scarice
Superintendent of Schools

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