Feedback Requested from Parents of West Hartford Public Schools Students

West Hartford Public Schools Superintendent's Office. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said Thursday that parents are being asked to let the district know by July 17 if they plan to send their children to in-person school.

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore has been sharing information about reopening plans for this fall as it develops, and now is asking families to provide feedback so the district can move forward with greater clarity.

In a letter sent to parents and guardians on Thursday, Moore is asking that families share their plans for the fall no later than July 17. The letter he distributed includes a link to the “Learning Intentions Survey” which all are being asked to complete.

Moore said it will be critical to know who plans on attending in-person school so that class lists can be developed and the number of teachers needed can be properly determined.

“For families entering kindergarten, registration is not yet complete so they will not be emailed the link until next week,” Moore said. Anyone can access the link here, however, or through the West Hartford Public Schools website, whps.org.

The district and state goal, Moore said, is to have students return to physical classrooms this fall.

Based on his review of the Connecticut Department of Education’s specific guidelines released last week, West Hartford Public Schools has already been refining its plans.

Highlight of the plan under development include:

  • Mandatory use of masks – other than for those who cannot wear them due to health reasons – with “mask breaks” during the day. Masks will not be required while outdoors if adequate distance can be maintained. West Hartford Public Schools will provide masks to all students, and has ordered them in a variety of sizes including for small children.
  • Hand washing at regular intervals will be required and hand sanitizer stations will also be available.
  • Class sizes will be reduced, with the goal of providing 6 feet of distance between students, but that will not always be possible.
  • Cohorting will be used as much as possible, with elementary students remaining in the same classroom throughout the day – including for specials – to minimize travel through the hallways. Meals will likely be eaten in the classrooms or outdoors when weather permits. Middle school students will remain with their teams.
  • Middle and high school students will attended classes based on a block scheduling format, attending half of their assigned periods for a longer period of time on alternating A/B days, which will limit classroom transitions. Hallways and stairwells will become one-way with staggered passing times. “Classes will be longer, but students will still be able to take part in a wide variety of offerings that makes our middle and high schools so special,” the outline states. There will also be an attempt to schedule free periods for high schoolers at the beginning or end of the day.
  • Masks will be required on buses, but distancing will not be required by the state. All families who are eligible for busing will receive a separate survey from the transportation department in the next two weeks.
  • Sanitation will be greatly enhanced in classrooms and bathrooms. Custodians have been trained on how to properly clean in a pandemic.
  • “It is critical that people stay home when they are sick,” the plan states. There will not be any bonus for perfect attendance, and Moore stressed that “tough it out” should no longer be anyone’s mantra.
  • For those families that choose remote learning, students from different schools may be grouped by grade to have the benefit of scale and a more comprehensive program. Students will be grouped by grade and subject for remote learning at the middle and high school levels, and some electives may also be available remotely. Instruction will “feature significant synchronous (real-time) teaching in addition to asynchronous lessons and resources, individual and small group conferencing, with integrated supports based on individual student needs.”
  • Grab and go bagged meals will be provided for students who are engaged in remote learning and are eligible for specific programs.
  • More information regarding special education will be forthcoming shortly from Director of Pupil Services Gretchen Nelson. In-person and online options will be available, with services outlined in students’ IEPs with some adjustments, and PPTs and team meetings taking place in a virtual format. “Students attending through the online platform will continue to receive services with an Individualized Learning Plan (ILP) that follows their IEP. Individual and small group, synchronous academic, and related services will be provided,” the plan outline states.

There will also be multiple contingency plans, Moore said, for a hybrid model as well as if schools are required to return to an entirely online instructional program.

In addition, there will be protocols for dealing with a student, teacher, or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19. Moore said that current guidance is that a two- to five-day shut down will be required “to investigate, contact trace, and clean” in the event of a positive test.

“It is important to note that we must be flexible, and be able to react to future conditions,” Moore wrote in Thursday’s letter.” I am thrilled to see so many people in Connecticut wearing their masks in public, and to know that the sacrifices made in the spring were not in vain. Connecticut is currently a success story in flattening the curve, and it is so important to do all that we can this summer so that we can return to school this fall.”

While the “safest” plan might be continuing online learning, Moore said that while risks cannot be fully eliminated, they can be mitigated and “the benefits from a return to school will be dramatic for so many children who have been deeply impacted by our closure.”

The following guidance from an American Academy of Pediatrics policy paper on the need to reopen America’s Public Schools (American Academy of Pediatrics), has helped in the planning:

Policy makers must also consider the mounting evidence regarding COVID-19 in children and adolescents, including the role they may play in transmission of the infection. SARS-CoV-2 appears to behave differently in children and adolescents than other common respiratory viruses, such as influenza, on which much of the current guidance regarding school closures is based. Although children and adolescents play a major role in amplifying influenza outbreaks, to date, this does not appear to be the case with SARS-CoV-2. Although many questions remain, the preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2 infection. In addition, children may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection. Policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within schools must be balanced with the known harms to children, adolescents, families, and the community by keeping children at home.

“Our plan is grounded in the belief that education is an essential service to our children and our community,” Moore said, with student and community safety, equitable educational opportunities, high-quality alternatives as options, and integration of a full range of services including social and emotional support as paramount guiding principles.

More details can be found here, and Moore said that a more specific blueprint will be available later this month.

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