Re-opening Ridgefield High School poses problems
Returning all 1,500 Ridgefield High School students to classes in the building five days a week remains a goal — but it appears to be an elusive goal.
A variety of difficulties challenge the practicality of inviting all high school students back into the building five days a week, Board of Education members were told in a “reopening update” Tuesday night, Oct. 13.
“Right now at the high school it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to do that, without having some modifications, whether in the elective area or the lab area,” Superintendent of Schools Susie Da Silva said.
“Students in classrooms are going to be three feet apart — they’re not going to be five and six feet apart,” said new Ridgefield High School Principal Jake Greenwood.
“We could look at a gradual increase in participation size, bringing some kids back that might need some support,” he said.
The problems are daunting even with an assumption that some families would choose to continue with “remote learning” rather than send students back to full time school while there remains a threat of exposure to the coronavirus and COVID-19.
News that one member of the Ridgefield Public Schools community had tested positive for coronavirus was announced by Superintendent Da Silva on Oct. 5. Working with health authorities, school officials determined that no closure of any school building was necessary.
The issue of bringing students in grades 9 to 12 back five days a week was addressed at some length by Principal Greenwood and Superintendent Da Silva.
The good news
Greenwood began with the good news.
“We haven’t had any positive cases at the high school,” Greenwood said.
“Mask compliance and health and safety protocols, we’ve had zero issues,” he said.
“Our students have acted responsibly, come in every day, masks on, and ready to go.”
Still, changing the current “hybrid model” — with two student cohorts, alternating in-building time — and returning to five-day school weeks for all students would be difficult “assuming we don’t want to look at changing our programming,” Greenwood said.
With all students invited back full time “you’re going to be giving up programming” to do some basic things “like feeding the children” in the cafeteria, he said.
A more more realistic approach might be to focus on the students who need in-school time the most.
“I think the best move is to help some students who might be struggling,” Greenwood said.
Da Silva agreed.
“We’d bring back our high priority kids,” she said.
With all the effort that has been put into remote learning, and making that work, for some students — and some subjects — classes over the Internet just aren’t as good as being in a room with the teacher.
“Some of our departments are having a tougher time getting the curriculum across,” Greenwood said. “...Some students would benefit from coming back.”
A return to five-day school weeks could be especially helpful “around the math courses,” he said.
Deciding what students might most benefit from returning to five-day school weeks involves balancing different issues — “attendance concerns, versus current grades, versus students who didn’t meet credit requirements last spring,” Greenwood said.
The high school has “120 kids with various plans for ‘credit recovery’ from last spring” when the schools closed and went to remote learning, Greenwood said.
“Some of them are seniors,” he added.
Among the problems is that with current social distancing practices outlined by state health authorities, there are a number of rooms that can’t accommodate everyone if all the students are in the school at once — starting with the “student center” or cafeteria.
“The number one biggest concern is the student center. Science labs are the next biggest concern,” Greenwood said.
“These are areas that are not going to meet social distancing guidelines, based on size and shape of classrooms and size of classes.”
There are also some “small odd-shaped classrooms” for courses with particular requirements, like ceramics with a kiln, or fashion courses that have sewing machines.
But the student center is the thorniest problem given that student are in school from early morning until mid afternoon.
“We have to offer lunch. To just say we’re not going to have lunch is not an option,” Greenwood said.
He showed a slide with students sitting at round tables spaced out around the student center,
Based on the size of the tables “we’re right where we can be with two students to a table,” he said.
“I have 91 tables in there,” he said.” I can’t put in 92.”
Adding 50 students to the in-school population — currently about half of student body, on any given day — means an additional 15 students per lunch wave, according to Greenwood.
“To add 50 kdis means I have to add an alternative space for lunch,” he said.
He said a “grab and go operation” was something the school has been experimenting with for lunches.
A possible solution is shortening the school day so kids aren’t there for lunch.
“Modifying the schedule, we may have to look at that,” Greenwood said. “...Maybe doing a half-day schedule so we wouldn‘t have to use the student center at all.
“How do we feel about having students leave at 11:30 every day?” he said.
“As the parent of a 16-year-old. I’d have to think about that.”