Back to the classroom? Parents split on safety

Students board buses at the end of the school day at Scotts Ridge Middle School in Ridgefield, Conn., Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014.

Students board buses at the end of the school day at Scotts Ridge Middle School in Ridgefield, Conn., Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014.

Carol Kaliff / Carol Kaliff

Fear, relief, uncertainty.

Those are some of the emotions Ridgefield parents are feeling after Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont recently announced a plan for students and staff to return to school five days a week this fall. According to the guidelines, students and staff will have to wear face-masks during the school day and social-distancing measures must be in place.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools in Ridgefield and the rest of the state closed for in-person learning in mid-March and switched to online classes for the rest of the 2019-20 academic year. But with COVID-19 cases sharply declining in Connecticut, Lamont is hopeful that schools can safely reopen in late August.

“I’m cautiously comfortable sending my kids back to school,” wrote Rob Ceccarini in response to several questions The Press sent to random Ridgefield parents via Facebook message this week. “Parents everywhere have been weighing in on the qualifications needed to return to school, and with the current local trend in CT on the virus I believe with the plan in place we’ll be able to keep our students and faculty safe. It’s inconvenient and not ideal, but the threat of the virus is what’s making us adjust out lives and we’ll make do and eventually get past this.”

Ceccarini was one of 21 parents who responded to The Press’s questions. Nineteen of the 21 asked to remain anonymous.

The responses reinforce a split that is evident throughout the state and the country: Eleven parents said they are not in favor of schools reopening with a regular schedule, while 10 others believe students should return five days a week.

A committee comprised of wide-ranging stakeholders — teachers, administrators, parents, doctors, nurses, custodial and transportation reps, and town officials — is working on Ridgefield’s specific reopening plan. Although the committee must follow the state plan, it can install extra precautionary steps, such as taking the temperature of students and staff each day or limiting the number of students riding on buses.

“The current plan is not considering the safety and health of all people involved ... teachers, students, janitors,” replied the mother of a high school senior and an eighth grader. “Some people are saying that kids may not get ‘really sick’ but they are carriers and can get the people who live with them sick and can get their teachers and bus drivers sick as well.

“I don’t think teachers were asked to provide their input,” she added. “I get that the country needs the parents to go back to work but even my husband’s office is closed until at least October and if they must hold a meeting no more than five people are allowed to be together and they are going outdoors for that ... plus they all wear their masks. How is the high school going to manage 2,000 [people] in the same building?

“I don’t know what a better plan for the whole state or the whole Ridgefield [school system] would be. I know that a better plan for my kids and my family will be to continue the virtual classes system but in an improved way. I am positive sending the kids back to school right now is just going to end on teachers getting sick, hiring temporary teachers that are not qualified, children getting sick, and their relatives getting sick as well.”

A father of two children in the Ridgefield school system also worried about the health of teachers and staff.

“It’s kind of selfish for us to go around saying schools should reopen five days a week for all students just because students will probably be okay since the coronavirus doesn’t affect them as seriously,” he said. “But that implies that we are not concerned about the teachers and the other adults working in our schools.”

Too soon

“It’s too soon for everyone to be back at the same time,” replied a woman whose son is a sophomore at the high school. “Ridgefield should at least have an alternating plan — a mix of in-class and online learning — so that not everyone is in school together.”

But others are pleased that the state wants to fully reopen schools.

“With current numbers in CT, and a hope for an effective and safe vaccine, yes, we are comfortable sending our children to school,” wrote one mother. “We know the school will be implementing all of the safety precautions and all recommended protocols possible. There are a few things we are uncertain about, like them being on the bus, and what if the numbers spike right before school starts.

“Aside from the unknowns, yes, it is very important to us that they have the traditional school day that they would pre-COVID, giving them the face-to-face time with teachers and friends. Distance learning or homeschooling is not our preferred method of learning for any of our children.”

“Yes,” wrote the father of two young children in response to the question of whether parents were comfortable sending their kids back to school. “CDC data consistently shows that healthy children are not spreaders.”

Week in, week remote

One dad whose children attend Wooster School in Danbury said he thought that private school’s plan was favorable.

“I think they did a great job in the spring and have a solid (as best as possible) plan for the fall,” he wrote. “Amounts to a week on campus, then a week off/remote.”

Amber Wilder, whose children attend Ridgefield public schools, said she is keeping her kids (ages six and 10) home — but not for fear for the coronavirus.

“I don’t want them wearing masks all day,” she said. “I don’t think that is healthy for them.

“I home-schooled my children two years ago and ran my business from home, simultaneously, and thankfully I have the choice due to my current set-up,” Wilder added. “I feel for the parents that do not have a choice.”