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New Beginnings: West Hartford Public School Students Return to Class (Part 2)

Smiling behind their masks and under umbrellas, parents and their children arrive at Duffy Elementary School First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The first in-person day of the 2020-2021 school year for the Blue Team at West Hartford Public Schools was Sept. 10, 2020.

Aiken Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Cara Pauik

By Ronni Newton. Photos by Ronni Newton and Cara Pauik

It was another day of “firsts” in West Hartford – the second first day of school – as students on the Blue Team (aka those whose last names end with the letters L-Z) returned to school buildings for in-person learning for the first time since the middle of March.

Students on the Red Team began their in-person schooling on Tuesday and were in the classrooms on Wednesday as well, with Blue Team students engaged in at-home learning under the West Hartford Public Schools’ hybrid model. After this week, the students will switch off on a week-by-week basis, with students on the Red Team attending in person all five days next week.

Conard High School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The weather was less cooperative on Thursday than it was on Tuesday, but at both King Philip Middle School and Duffy Elementary School, songs like “Here Comes the Sun” and “Walking on Sunshine” blasted as students arrived at the school doors, setting a sunshiny mood for the day in spite of the rain.

Smiling behind their masks and under umbrellas, parents and their children arrive at Duffy Elementary School First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“Still smooth,” Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said Thursday afternoon. “I’m so glad to see our kids back, and thankful for how parents have helped with getting kids ready for masks.”

The West Hartford Board of Education held its first in-person meeting since March 10 on Wednesday night – stationed physically distant at tables spread around Room 400 in Town Hall – and the executive team provided an update on the opening of school to Board members.

“Really, it’s just been more smooth than I would have expected,” Moore told the Board. “The start has gone so well.”

Moore thanked the team for the countless hours of planning that took place over the summer, and noted that the new remote learning school that was created this summer is now the largest school in West Hartford, with 1,448 students.

“We take the virus very seriously,” Moore said, and the district plans to be completely transparent with families and will have a dashboard available by Friday, indicating the COVID-19 data, by school, for students and staff, with information about the number who have tested positive or are in quarantine. No personal details will be released.

There are some staff members, from among the district’s 1,500 employees, who are quarantining right now, Executive Director of Human Resources Rick Ledwith said in his report Wednesday night. Most are due to their necessary travel out of state to take their children to college which resulted in quarantine mandated by Gov. Ned Lamont’s travel policy, but some is due to exposure to others who may be COVID-19 positive.

“Right now there are no positive cases among our staff in West Hartford, which is great,” Ledwith said.

“One of the things I want to thank people for immensely, is parents at drop off and pickup are wearing masks,” Moore said. “Kids are all wearing masks,” Moore said, and it’s the kids telling adults if their masks slip below their noses.

Aiken Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Cara Pauik

Liz Hewitt, director of Finance and Planning for West Hartford Public Schools, provided some initial enrollment details to the Board. A complete report will be made in October, as is customary, looking at enrollment as of Oct. 1.

According to Hewitt, 8,909 students are enrolled in West Hartford Public Schools as of this week. That number is lower by 170 than predicted last year, pre-COVID, and her October report will include information that is developed about the reasons for the decline. Most of the decrease is in the elementary schools, which may include an increase in the number of families who have decided to home school, rather than attend in person or enroll in the district’s remote learning experience.

The following is the breakdown of in-person and remote, according to Hewitt:

  • Overall, 83.7% of students (7,461) are attending in person while 16.3% (1,448) have chosen remote.
  • The split for elementary schools is 81% in-person (3,072) and 19% remote
  • Enrollment at middle school level is 81.2% (1,694) in-person and 18.8% remote (392)
  • High school students are 88.8% in-person (2,956) and 11.2% remote (330). There are currently 1,279 students attending Conard in person and 1,347 at Hall.

Detailed reports can be found in the document links on the Board of Education agenda on the West Hartford Public Schools website.

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Conard High School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Grab and go breakfasts and lunches are available for all students. Conard High School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard High School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard High School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard High School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard High School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard High School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard High School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard High School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard High School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Principal Julio Duarte, accompanied by school security officer Michael Cacioli, stands outside Conard High School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

King Philip Middle School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

King Philip Middle School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

King Philip Middle School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

King Philip Middle School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Aiken Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Cara Pauik

Aiken Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Cara Pauik

Aiken Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Cara Pauik

Aiken Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Cara Pauik

Aiken Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Cara Pauik

Aiken Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Cara Pauik

Aiken Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Cara Pauik

Aiken Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Cara Pauik

Aiken Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Cara Pauik

Duffy Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Duffy Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Duffy Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Duffy Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Duffy Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Parents and their children arrive at Duffy Elementary School First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Smiling behind their masks and under umbrellas, parents and their children arrive at Duffy Elementary School First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Smiling behind their masks and under umbrellas, parents and their children arrive at Duffy Elementary School First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Smiling behind their masks and under umbrellas, parents and their children arrive at Duffy Elementary School First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Smiling behind their masks and under umbrellas, parents and their children arrive at Duffy Elementary School First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Smiling behind their masks, parents and their children arrive at Duffy Elementary School First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Smiling behind their masks, parents and their children arrive at Duffy Elementary School First day of school in West Hartford, Part 2. Sept. 10, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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