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West Hartford Board of Education Report: ‘Next-To-Normal’ School Reopening in Fall, Masked Summer Programming

The 2020-2021 Board of Education, together in person for the first time this year, poses for a photo on June 1, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

On Tuesday the West Hartford Board of Education discussed detailed reopening plans for the 2021-2022 school year, as well as changes and additions to summer programming.

By Sophie Christensen

While the 2020-2021 school year will almost certainly end without changes to current COVID-19 protocols, according to a report made to the Board of Education Tuesday night, the district expects next year to look much closer to “normal.”

In a report to the Board, Assistant Superintendent Andy Morrow thanked everyone who made this year possible and helped keep students in school and safe. Special thanks were extended to the school nurses – whose names he read aloud, nurse supervisor Grace Johnson, and the custodial staff and bus drivers. According to Morrow, the district has thus far managed 450 COVID-19 cases among students and 110 among staff, and tracked 4,700 individuals who have been absent, sick, or under quarantine.

Right now, West Hartford Public Schools is planning a full reopening for the 2021-2022 academic year. This includes a return to the traditional class schedule, no remote or hybrid learning, and no changes to bus transportation. The district will continue to follow state guidance, expecting that these guidelines will loosen between now and the start of the school year.

As for a mask mandate in the fall, “we don’t know yet,” Superintendent Tom Moore said Tuesday. For the West Hartford Public Schools summer programs, current mask guidance will likely remain in place.

No decisions have been made on whether vaccines will be required for the coming school year. “Things are shifting every day,” Moore said.

West Hartford Public Schools expects to continue contact tracing and quarantining procedures, but these will be different in the fall than they were this year. Vaccinated individuals will not be required to quarantine.

Also included in the reopening plan is a focus on reintegration efforts for students who have been remote for the past year, with special concern for rising first, seventh, and 10th graders who have not yet set foot in their new schools. Activities such as school walk-throughs and teacher meet-and-greets will be offered for formerly remote (and all) students.

“Overall we believe that children need to be in public schools, that children need to be in school, and we’re going back to the situation before the pandemic,” Moore said. The state is in the process of developing an online learning platform, but it has not yet been determined how that will interface with the district’s curriculum and if any students who enroll will continue to be West Hartford Public Schools students.

For the fall, the district, which will be receiving $9.7 million through the ESSER II (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) grant, will also add special education staff to elementary and secondary schools, in hopes that smaller class sizes will help with re-acclimation efforts.

In light of increased stress felt by students during the pandemic, elementary schools will receive three additional social workers to assist students with reintegration efforts. West Hartford Public Schools will continue to integrate and emphasize Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and social justice instruction at all levels. At the secondary level, an additional trauma/crisis provider will assist the current one.

After receiving additional staff for next school year, the Office of Equity Advancement will “strengthen focus on making connections with families and increasing access to appropriate resources for our pK-12 populations most disproportionately impacted by COVID-19″ the report presented to the Board Tuesday night states. Pupil Services will update their website regularly with information and resources for parents.

The district has also decided to expand their existing mathematics and literacy programs. The roles of current reading specialists will be diversified, there will be increased access to tutors, and math coaches will be added to middle schools.

Furthering these efforts, the Saturday GOAL Academy (which was piloted for grade 6 only) will now be open to all middle school students for the next school year.

Since the number of struggling students has increased due to the pandemic, existing summer programs will also be expanded to support students in need of additional instruction.

Due to an increase in enrollment, the ESOL summer program will add one additional classroom. While the program will run mostly in-person, one section of online instruction will be offered for grades 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, 6, respectively. It will be held at Smith Elementary School, as usual.

Charter Oak’s Summer Connections program (previously open to Charter Oak and Smith STEM students only) will expand to service students from the entire district. The district has more than doubled the number of classrooms available, and will provide free transportation and lunch. It will be held at Charter Oak Elementary School.

In addition, a number of summer programs exist for students who qualify for an Extended School Year (ESY) or IEPs. Detailed plans for summer programming and school reopening can be found in this report.

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Sophie Christensen

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