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West Hartford Public Schools to Remain in Hybrid Mode Due to Uptick in Cases

Morley Elementary School. First day of school in West Hartford, Part 1. Sept. 8, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

While West Hartford Public Schools has not experienced a spread of COVID-19, the number of cases in town has spiked.

By Ronni Newton

Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said Friday that West Hartford Public Schools will not be transitioning to full in-person learning for the elementary schools on Oct. 13, as had originally been planned.

“We are not going forward with full reopening, we are staying in hybrid,” Moore told We-Ha.com on Friday, noting concern about the number of cases in the West Hartford community as a whole.

Moore also provided his message via video, and said that no one wants to see the kids back in schools more than he does.

On Thursday afternoon, Moore had said the metrics were still pointing toward bringing back the elementary schools to full in-person learning, followed by the middle and then the high schools, but Moore said he was awaiting data that would be released Friday morning. “We’re monitoring it closely,” he said Thursday, noting that the state’s numbers over the past week were not looking as favorable as they had been.

When he received Friday morning’s report, Moore said there was much more concern.

“The number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in the community doubled over the past week,” he said. The town’s seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 is up to 8.9, and there were 39 positives cases during the last week.

“I didn’t have a choice really, but to remain in hybrid,” Moore said.

The positivity rate in West Hartford was 2.3%, with 39 positive tests out of 1,686 for data reported Oct. 1, which covers the period Sept. 20-26.

The previous week there were just 19 cases, a seven-day average positivity rate of 1.3 and a rate per 100,000 of 4.3 over the seven-day period Sept. 13-19.

Statewide, for the Sept. 20-26 period, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of population was 5.1, and for Hartford County it was 5.7. The statewide seven-day average positivity rate for the same period was 1.3%, and 1.5% in Hartford County.

While West Hartford’s positivity rate is still at the “low” risk level, the secondary indicators, which consider trends in percent test positivity and other factors, are trending upward.

Screenshot, Connecticut Open Data

Gov. Ned Lamont said during a Thursday press briefing that nearly 40% of the state’s schools are operating fully in-person for grades Pre-K through 5, while 54% of of schools are hybrid in elementary school and 6% are fully remote – which includes schools in New Haven and Danbury. More schools are hybrid for middle and high school.

Screenshot

“I had planned to write a very different letter to you today, confirming our move back to full in school instruction at the elementary level on Oct. 13, Moore wrote in a letter to families Friday afternoon.

He noted the metrics in the report received Friday morning.

“Due to the rising numbers of COVID 19 in West Hartford and some adjoining communities, I met with the West Hartford/Bloomfield Health District and the decision was made to not have all of our students return to in-school instruction on the 13th,” Moore said in his letter. 

Moore said he doesn’t know when West Hartford may reconsider a move to full in-person learning.

“We will be monitoring the numbers, and will adjust when we can,” he said. If the Health District sees a decline in cases, the plan to return all students, other than those who have elected remote learning, can be revisited.

There have only been six cases in West Hartford Public Schools since the reopening on Sept. 8, and currently there are only three active cases – two at Hall High School and one at Conard. Several other individuals have already recovered, and the hybrid model has successfully mitigated the number of individuals impacted.

There are currently 58 individuals in quarantine, most of those at the high schools.

“Masks work,” Moore said. [There is] no spread in schools, but spread in community,” Moore said.

West Hartford Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard, Oct. 2, 2020.

A chart will be added to the West Hartford Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard indicating the metrics that Moore cited in making his decision. That dashboard can be found here.

We are seeing an uptick in positive cases due to lack of social distancing and no mask wearing,” said Aimee Krauss, director of the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District.

While Krauss could not provide any details about the demographic spread of COVID-19 in West Hartford, she did say that multiple positive cases were all within one family.

“I know that this decision will create difficulties for families in finding childcare options,” Moore said in his letter. “I know the frustration that many of our parents of students with special education needs feel concerning their child’s goals and progress. I know many of you will be angry, frustrated, and disappointed, and feel let down by this outcome. I assure you that until this morning’s data, we were still planning on returning, and the communication was already written. I also promised, however, that we would follow the science, listen to the experts at the Health Department, and adjust our plans if appropriate.”

Safety is at the forefront, Moore said. And that message needs to be consistent in and out of school.

“The safety of our children, our staff, and our community at large has been my priority throughout this pandemic. For those of you that are angry with me, I understand, and I know I will hear from you, but I do not apologize for doing what I believe is right.”

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