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West Hartford Public Schools to Transition to Remote the Week of Holiday Break

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

Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said Friday that for the three days before holiday break is set to begin, all schools will operate in remote learning mode.

By Ronni Newton

Students at all grade levels who attend West Hartford Public Schools will move to remote learning for the three days that they are in session prior to the start of holiday break, primarily due to staffing and contact tracing concerns, Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said Friday.

The December holiday break is set to begin on Thursday, Dec. 24, and students are not scheduled to return to the classrooms until Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

Students will be engaged in remote learning on the three days of the week prior to the start of the break, Monday through Wednesday, Dec. 21, 22, and 23. The decision was made in partnership with the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District, and Moore said that other neighboring superintendents are taking similar measures.

“This isn’t really about the case load per se,” Moore said. “It’s about the ability to staff a school, it’s about the ability to do contact tracing accurately and quickly.”

The contact tracing protocol goes into place as soon a positive case is identified in a school, and representatives of the Health District need to get in touch with contacts of the infected individual quickly and notify them that they need to quarantine. Principals and nurses have been doing contact tracing seven days a week, including on Thanksgiving, but if cases arise the week before Christmas, particularly on Dec. 23, to be able to do that on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day would be “untenable,” Moore said.

There are a large number of individuals in the district who are currently in quarantine, and that creates a need for hiring substitutes. During a short week leading up to a break, it’s difficult under ordinary circumstances to find substitute teachers.

Keeping the buildings closed for at least two weeks, Moore said, will allow for the current positive cases and quarantine situations to be cleared from the dashboard, to eliminate the worry of exposure in the schools, and to start with a clean slate.

During the break, Moore said the district will continue to be notified as new cases arrive, and families will be instructed to continue to notify a student’s principal and school nurse via email if there is a positive test.

West Hartford Public Schools COVID dashboard, Dec. 11, 2020

Moore said he is very thankful to staff for keeping the schools running, and for the partnership with families in keeping education as a priority.

“With the volume of cases that we see increasing, it necessitates that more people are in quarantine, and that our student and staff absences increase,” Moore wrote in a letter to families Friday afternoon. “As you all know from my previous communication, we have been committed to following the advice of our local health district and the state Department of Public Health in staying open. When the situation changes, as it did at Bugbee this week, we adjust our plans.”

According to the West Hartford Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard, as of Friday there are 49 active cases of the coronavirus among students or staff in the schools

Moore said that many of the cases are related to families, and when there are multiple siblings within a family that increase the number of people who need to be in quarantine. Dr. Andy Morrow provides updates to the community every evening with as much information as possible about the new cases that have been reported.

West Hartford Public Schools remain at the high risk level, and the town is in the “red alert” zone along with 163 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities according to data released by the state on Thursday. West Hartford’s average daily positive case rate per 100,000 is now 43.5 based on the 14-day period Nov. 22-Dec. 5 – up from 31.5 which was reported last week. The current positivity rate in West Hartford is 6.2% – representing the percentage of positive results from COVID-19 tests administered during that time period.

As of data released by the state Thursday, West Hartford has had 2,094 positive cases since the pandemic began, and 164 COVID-19-related fatalities.

Moore said that while it’s still important for the community to sacrifice for the greater good, administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is set to begin as early as next week, will be a game changer.

“[W]e have seen the approval of a COVID vaccine, with a rollout beginning shortly that portends better days that are ahead, and hope for a brighter 2021, with a resumption of a ‘new normal’ that will hopefully begin soon,” Moore said in Friday’s letter.

Moore said he made the announcement of the three days of remote learning as early as possible to allow families to plan.

“I wanted to give you all enough time to plan for those three days, as I know this will present challenges for many,” he wrote.

“I hope that this break will allow for some family time, an opportunity to reflect not just on what we have lost but on what we have learned in this most difficult year of 2020, and a chance, perhaps, for some optimism that things will improve as we turn the calendar to 2021. Please take care, and hold on for a while longer in making some sacrifices now to ensure a better 2021. Be well,” Moore said.

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