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West Hartford Elementary School Moves to Virtual Learning Due to COVID-19 Cases

Bugbee Elementary School, West Hartford, CT. Photo credit: Sofie Brandt (we-ha.com file photo)

Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said Tuesday that Bugbee Elementary School will move to virtual learning at the end of the day Tuesday, and remain virtual for the rest of the week.

By Ronni Newton

For the first time since West Hartford Public Schools reopened for the 2020-2021 school year on Sept. 8, one of the town’s public schools will be moving into a virtual learning mode due to the impact of COVID-19, Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said Tuesday afternoon.

Bugbee Elementary School students will be engaged in virtual learning for the remainder of the week, Moore said, with the expectation that the school will reopen for full in-person learning on Monday, Dec. 14. The decision was made in consultation with the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District.

The district’s COVID-19 dashboard indicates three positive cases at Bugbee – one of which was reported Tuesday. The quarantine number has not yet been updated on the dashboard, and Moore said it now includes three entire classrooms.

Moore and the Health District determined that the closure is necessary to allow for the contact tracing to be completed, and while additional test results are pending for individuals who are in quarantine.

“When we get to three classrooms, and you’re looking at those kind of numbers, we want to wait for the tests [before reopening],” Moore told We-Ha.com.

“We want to make sure we take a cautious approach,” he said. While there have been greater numbers of infections at other schools – and the dashboard indicates 58 individuals are in quarantine at Whiting Lane – in those cases the contact tracing has been able to clearly identify the source of the infection and who has been potentially impacted. The results thus far at Bugbee aren’t as clear, Moore said.

While he understands that it is an inconvenience for some families, and he apologized for the short notice, the decision was made to put safety first.

West Hartford’s secondary schools have remained in hybrid mode, but the elementary schools returned to full in-person learning on Oct. 19. The need to close a school temporarily was not unexpected, Moore said.

“I’ve anticipated it all along. I’m surprised this is the first time,” he said. He said he will not be surprised to have other district schools close between now and the end of January, when the surge will hopefully be subsiding and vaccination is underway.

“The truth now is that there is just so much spread in the community,” said Moore. “We can look at a building sometimes and siblings can affect a large number of classrooms. We are still seeing spread coming from families,” Moore said, but because of the sheer volume of virus now, it’s harder to rule out definitively that the spread is not in a school itself.

Data reported Monday by the state indicated that in West Hartford, from Friday through Sunday, there were 137 new positive cases of COVID-19. Gov. Ned Lamont said the positivity rate was 8.65% on Tuesday – the highest it has been in months, and there were 43 more cases reported in West Hartford.

Moore cannot say if the positive individuals at Bugbee are students or staff, and noted it’s vitally important to respect people’s privacy. While he wants to encourage people to model appropriate behavior, he also wants to be sure not to shame individuals who might then hide the fact that they are infected.

Avon Public Schools are entirely in virtual mode through Dec. 14, and the Hartford Courant reported this week that a single large party over Thanksgiving weekend led to the spread which impacted students across the district.

That same type of situation has not occurred in West Hartford at this point, Moore said, where a single event has resulted in spread to potentially dozens of students.

Moore speaks several times a week with all of the superintendents in the state, particularly those in the Farmington Valley. “It’s really important that parents make sure, and students make sure, that behavior outside school is the same as it is inside school,” he said. That includes wearing masks and maintaining physical distance.

Bugbee Principal Kelly Brouse will be following up with school families directly with specific information about scheduling for the remainder of the week, including how lunches will be provided.

Bugbee teachers will be given the option of working from home, or from the school building, depending on what works best for them, Moore said.

Moore said he continues to believe that area schools are safe – so safe, he said, that both of his children, who are home from college for break, are working as substitute teachers, not in West Hartford, but in nearby districts.

“Please take care, and thank you for your support as we close out what has certainly been a very trying 2020,” Moore said to families in an email.

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