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West Hartford Superintendent Optimistic about Return to Full In-Person for Secondary Schools

From West Hartford Public Schools COVID dashboard, Feb. 12, 2021. Screenshot

In a letter to West Hartford Public Schools families Friday, Superintendent Tom Moore provided an update with a message of hope.

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore sent a letter via email to families as the schools recessed for February break, reiterating what he has said all along: the goal is to get all students, at all levels, back in school during this academic year.

“I have said since last summer that our goal is to get all of our students (other than those who have had to elect remote learning for the year) back in school every day, as elementary has been since October,” Moore wrote in his letter Friday. “We are on track to do this, and we are actively planning for it,” he said.

He said he’s hoping for sometime in March or April, but it will depend on the metrics.

“More people in school would inevitably mean more people in quarantine at times, and we have to accept the fact that for the remainder of this year, we will see some level of virus. As cases decline, however, this becomes more manageable,” Moore said.

Moore said there is no firm date for the transition yet, but the administration is closely monitoring the spread in the community, which has continued to decline over the past several weeks, in West Hartford as well as statewide.

According to data released by the state on Thursday, the town’s case rate per 100,000 of population, averaged over a 14-day period, dropped once again, to 23.3, down from 30.2 the prior week and 34.2 for the 14-day period before that. The most up-to-date rate is based average new positive cases over the 14-day period Jan. 24-Feb. 6. The town’s positivity rate for that same period was 3.5%.

If current trends continue, next week’s numbers should be even better.

Friday’s positivity rate for the state was 2.2%, the lowest number reported since late October, and the seven-day average was 3.1%, which is also the lowest since late October. Hospitalizations have continued to decline as well, dropping by 57 on Friday, to 674.

In his Superintendent’s Report to the Board of Education on Feb. 2, Moore expressed hope that teachers and other staff can be vaccinated “sooner rather than later,” and that the more contagious variants don’t cause an uptick. He noted, however, that wearing masks in the schools, keeping students in cohorts, and other mitigation strategies, are effective against the variants as well.

Moore is committed to holding vaccine clinics for school staff as soon as they become eligible, and hopes for enough vaccine supply to have 500 doses administered at a time.

“We’re watching everything right now,” Moore told the Board of Education. He said he continues to believe “that the best environment we can be in for those who didn’t chose the remote learning option is for us to be in every day, but we have large high schools and we have large middle schools.”

But the days are getting longer, he said, and despite the snow on the ground spring is coming, and that means the ability to open windows and have more outdoor learning opportunities.

“These are all reasons for hope,” Moore said in his letter.

Moore said some parents contact him asking for schools to return to full in-person immediately, while others express concerns about the variants and want a move toward more virtual learning. He said the district is taking its guidance from the Department of Public Health.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Biden administration, stress the reopening of schools, “The fact is that the vast majority of the country is trying to get to where West Hartford is right now, with students in full time in elementary, and coming for full weeks at a time in secondary. When the federal government talks about reopening schools, they are talking about the half of all American students that have not gone to school in person for one day all year. It is a national crisis that we will feel the effects of for years,” Moore said in his letter.

When West Hartford’s secondary schools return to full in-person mode, modifications will continue. Lunch periods at the secondary schools, with their large populations, would still pose a risk so the daily schedule would likely remain as it is now, with dismissal prior to lunchtime.

“I expect streaming will continue, not just for those in quarantine, but for some whose situation might necessitate it. Our RLE will remain unchanged for those who elected that option for the year,” Moore said.

“If the variants cause a dramatic increase in cases we would not be able to move forward, but I hope that continued efforts to limit spread, as well as an increasing number of vaccines will help to control these variants before they get out of hand. With that said, there is reason for optimism, not just for the remainder of this year, but for the 2021-2022 school year, when we will have a lot of work to do, but we will see a return to a new normal,” Moore said.

Schools will not be in session on Monday and Tuesday due to February break, and the Board of Education will meet on Wednesday, Feb. 17. Moore is scheduled to deliver his “State of the Schools” report at that meeting, which will be held virtually beginning at 7 p.m.

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