Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore advised families on Friday that all of the town’s public schools will be open for in-person learning on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. [Updated, Jan. 1, 2022]
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford Public Schools holiday break ends Sunday, and the district will resume full in-person learning on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022 as planned, Superintendent Tom Moore said in a letter to families on Friday.
Moore told the Board of Education at their last meeting, on Dec. 21, that schools would not be reverting to remote learning, and he reiterated that in Friday’s letter, noting that “unless there is a state-wide emergency order that closes school, we will be in session, as will other public schools in the state.”
Moore said there is no substitute for in-person learning, and the district doesn’t have the resources to implement a remote learning option.
“The state of Connecticut does not consider remote learning as an alternative this year to in-school days, and any remote days for the district would need to be made up,” Moore said in his letter. “We also do not have the staffing necessary to set up a large scale remote learning school like we did last year.”
Options for those who are out sick or in quarantine will remain as they were during the fall semester, Moore said.
Without a mass lockdown, shutting down schools are not an effective mitigation strategy, Moore said, because students would continue to gather in groups – either for childcare purposes while parents are working or for social reasons – and most of the spread of the virus continues to be from non-school settings.
The number of people in town, in the state, and nationwide who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past few weeks has skyrocketed, and Connecticut is in the midst of a surge from the remaining delta variant as well as the highly-contagious omicron variant. In West Hartford alone, there have been 628 new positive cases reported in the past week (the town now has recorded 6,906 positives since the pandemic began) – and that number doesn’t include those who have tested positive with a rapid home antigen test.
The district has not yet released an updated breakdown of the number of positive cases by school, which will include not only students and teachers or staff who are West Hartford residents, but also individuals who live in other towns. Prior to holiday break, there were 70 positive cases spread throughout district schools.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently modified quarantine recommendations for those who have tested positive and those who have been exposed, that guidance is being reviewed by the state Department of Public Health but has not yet been adopted by the state’s schools and the quarantine period remains 10 days.
Jason Siegal, West Hartford’s athletic director, confirmed that for school athletes, “the quarantine period has not been reduced to 5 days, it remains at 10.”
Mitigation efforts in the schools will be ramped up, Moore said – including extra spacing between individuals whenever possible and the importance of mask wearing reinforced.
In addition, Moore noted, “[We] reiterate our guidance to all that if your child shows any symptoms of illness, please keep them home.”
The director of communications for Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford confirmed that they will be fully open Monday for in-person learning.
Kingwood Oxford School’s communications director advised on Friday afternoon that the school will reopen according to the regular schedule. “Monday is a professional development day. We will be back on Tuesday – mask wearing and social distancing,” she said.
Information about the reopening of Kingswood Oxford School, where classes are scheduled to resume on Tuesday, was not immediately available Friday afternoon.
The district is expecting a shipment of N95 masks to be received soon, and those will be distributed to students and staff as an additional safety measure. Rapid tests, which were originally planned to be distributed on Friday but were not received from the state, will be handed out as soon as possible.
Bob McCue, deputy director of Emergency Management for the Town of West Hartford, said Friday that an update on distribution will be provided as soon as the town has information on the availability of the test kits.
Moore thanked everyone for their patience as COVID continues to take its toll in many ways, and he thanked the staff for their continued resilience.
“I am proud to be their colleague. I am hopeful that this wave will pass quickly, as I know it creates great stress for all of us who have lost family and friends to this disease. We are all tired, and 2021 did not provide the return to normal that we had hoped for. As we enter 2022, I hope that we can do it with resolve, and a commitment towards treating each other with kindness, compassion, and dignity,” he wrote in his letter.
The full text of Moore’s letter is provided below.
Dear West Hartford Community,
I wanted to reach out as we finish up vacation to clarify where we are currently in terms of COVID, and to reiterate our commitment to in-person learning as we head into what we know will be a difficult January. Many have asked over the past few days if we will be going remote for a week or two, or indefinitely to start the new year. West Hartford Public Schools will remain in person as we return next week, and unless there is a state-wide emergency order that closes school, we will be in session, as will other public schools in the state. The reasons for this are many, but the main one is that there is no substitute for in person learning, as we have seen all too well over the past twenty months.
I understand why some would prefer us to set up another remote learning option. We simply cannot do that. The state of Connecticut does not consider remote learning as an alternative this year to in-school days, and any remote days for the district would need to be made up. We also do not have the staffing necessary to set up a large scale remote learning school like we did last year. For those sick or in quarantine, we will continue with the same options we had in the fall, for tutoring at the elementary level and remote sign in at the secondary level. The CT Department of Public Health is evaluating the recent CDC changes in light of their existing school quarantine guidance. If this guidance changes, we will share this immediately with you. Until this time, our current requirements remain in place.
We will ramp up our mitigation efforts due to the high transmissibility of omicron. We will once again focus on providing spacing when possible, reinforce the importance of mask wearing, and reiterate our guidance to all that if your child shows any symptoms of illness, please keep them home. We do have some good news that we will be getting a shipment of N-95 masks that we will distribute to staff and students. The other good news is that we have learned much since the start of the pandemic in terms of spread and schools. We have obviously done a lot of contact tracing, and the school as a nexus for large scale spread has not been a factor. While there has certainly been some school level transmission, the vast majority of spread we see has been family or neighborhood based. If everything was going into lockdown, it might make some sense to close schools for a period of time. In our current reality, however, if our kids would then just be forced to gather together as their parents went to work, or would hang around with their friends in non-school settings, the loss of in-person learning is just too great a cost.
Finally, please join me in thanking our staff, at all levels. The next few weeks will be difficult with large numbers of absences. This has been the case all year, and while in many sectors of our economy people have been able to work from home, for the past year and a half our cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals, teaching assistants, office staff, nurses, security guards, bus drivers, custodians, administrators and teachers have come to work every day in service to the children of West Hartford. I am proud to be their colleague. I am hopeful that this wave will pass quickly, as I know it creates great stress for all of us who have lost family and friends to this disease. We are all tired, and 2021 did not provide the return to normal that we had hoped for. As we enter 2022, I hope that we can do it with resolve, and a commitment towards treating each other with kindness, compassion, and dignity.
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