Woodbridge School Supt. Robert Gilbert shared with the Woodbridge Town News the school re-opening plan that he submitted July 24 for state review. “A central belief in reopening is that the children of Beecher Road School need to be connected in person once again to our school’s academics, activities, arts; and led in person by their teachers and mentors,” he wrote in the 49-page document.
The superintendent worked hand-in-hand with a Re-opening Committee to review all reopening guidelines from the state and develop expectations for the fall and make them work for the conditions of this district.
The first day of school will be Monday, August 31 as a minimum day for elementary students with last names beginning with letter A-K; and Tuesday, September 1 for students with last names beginning with letters L through Z; the rest of the week will be minimum days for all students. That way both students and teachers can ease into the new school routines, and teachers will have the afternoon to share questions and adjust procedures if needed.
The committee has identified four priorities in devising the plan, namely the health and safety of students and staff; the development of appropriate educational opportunities; the social-emotional needs of students, families and staff and the expectation that “all children will achieve at the expected grade level by the end of the year.”
Fluidity is the name of the game, with the state sending directives always with the caveat that things can change. Similarly, the message from the superintendent is that “schools must be prepared to modify their reopening model to support a partial reopening if the public health data changes.”
The state expects all schools to plan for the return of all students for full-time instruction. However, it also directed local districts to provide for those families who choose not to send their kids to school.
Getting on the bus: In Woodbridge, parents are strongly urged to drive their children to school each day, according to the plan submitted to the state at the end of last week. As for the bus, students will be seated from the back forward, to avoid students brushing up against those already seated.
Students and adults will need to wear face coverings on the bus and in school. There will be mask breaks provided during the day. Parents will be responsible for providing students with masks.
In the classroom, students will be kept in cohorts, “So each team functions independently as much as possible.” The district will reconfigure classroom space, including gymnasiums and auditoriums to maximize social distancing. Sharing of school supplies will not be allowed. Traffic patterns in hallways will be designed to promote social distancing and passing times may be staggered.
The school is looking at different lunch service models, namely a pick-up model, or classroom delivery model. It may require additional lunch waves to separate classroom cohorts.
After school: After school programs such as chorus, Student Council, Math Olympiad’s EDay, will follow social distancing guidelines as well as cohorting is feasible; assigned bathrooms and cleaning guidelines.
After-school activities may be approved by the superintendent, based on the ability to meet safety expectations. School assemblies and field trips will be restricted at the start of the year, and later decided on a case-by-case basis. Virtual trips will be encouraged. Singing and performing wind instruments is possible if spaced 12 feet apart.
Technology: According to the plan submitted, the district will guarantee that every student has access to digital technology and provide resources for high-speed home Wi-Fi. Families will be surveyed before the start of the school year to establish technology needs at home. The district will have to make some policy changes to allow students to take laptops home.
Parents will be responsible to screen students and take their temperature before they set off for school. Students with a temperature higher than 100 degrees are not permitted. They will be allowed to return 24 hours after the fever has broken, or with a note from the healthcare provider or negative COVID-19 test. The school nurse will monitor screening information. Similar self-screening is required of staff.
Like other districts, Woodbridge has developed three learning models:
- in-person (school operating at full capacity);
- a hybrid (school operating at 50%, on A-B days;
- or remote (building closed, learning from home).
Parents will have the option not to send their children to school even as school is open. Teachers and administrators are in the process of developing this learning model, where students will learn on the computer at home, with school and parent support in place. That is different from home schooling, where the parents choose instructional materials and is solely responsible for student learning.
The switch from one model of learning to the next will be based on the virus transmission rate determined by the Quinnipiack Valley Health District. “If there is a substantial surge in local cases, based on guidance from the state of Connecticut and/or the health district, the school will likely revert to a remote learning model,” the district wrote in its plan.
In the case of a confirmed diagnosis of Covid 19, the school will likely implement a short-term closure (2-5 days) or longer, regardless of the community spread.
As much as the school prides itself for the active parent population and support from the community at large, during the pandemic the Board of Education has approved a measure restricting access to the building by the public and non-essential visitors. It also has recommended minimal use of the school building outside of school hours.
Serving on the School Reopening Committee are School Supt. Robert Gilbert; Board of Education Chairman Lynn Piascyk; Vice Chair Joyce Shavers; town liaison Sandy Stein; Special Services Director Cheryl Mammen; Business Director Al Pullo; Principal Analisa Sherman; Assistant Principal Doreen Merrill; Facilities Manager Vito Esparo; Nursing Supervisor Stacey Katz; School Nurse Aisling Fagan; Cafeteria Supervisor Jane Roddy; technology specialist James Crawford; Linda Acheson and Mary Vincitorio representing the Woodbridge Education Association; Debby Pines representing CSEA; Judy Silva, representing CILU; Dr. Mohini Ranganathan and Emity Banach, parents; Beth Cohen, transportation coordinator; John Adamovich, Recreation director, Cathy Salinardi, Extended Day coordinator; Medical advisor Dr Shannon Martinello and John Laudano of the Quinnipiac Health District.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent