Ridgefield schools will move closer to normal operations starting Monday, the superintendent said in an email to the school community.

It will be back to school five days a week for kids in the six elementary schools — where COVID-19 incidents have shown up most recently at Barlow Mountain and before that at Branchville.

And high school students will return to a “hybrid model” with two cohorts alternating time in the building, but middle schools will remain on remote learning for at least another week.

The changes were announced by Superintendent of Schools Susie Da Silva in an email sent out after consultations with health authorities Friday. They represent a change back to a “low risk” COVID scenario after a week of operating under a “moderate risk” model.

“On Monday, November 2,” Da Silva wrote, “we will be shifting back to a low-risk learning model as follows:

  “Pre-K-6: Full in-person learning will resume Mondays through Fridays;

  “9-12: Hybrid learning will resume with buildings open on Wednesdays.

“Due to the large number of students and teachers currently in quarantine at the middle schools, grades 6-8 will remain in the full-remote learning model through November 9, with hybrid learning resuming on Tuesday, November 10, and buildings open on Wednesdays,” Da Silva said.

The “moderate risk” for COVID-19 model is something the school system went to last week, starting Tuesday, Oct. 27 — and the “low risk” model they’re moving back to had been in practice up through Monday, Oct. 28, when the decision to change was made after a weekend of new cases popping up.

The thinking

Da Silva laid out the argument for the changing back to low risk in her email:

“At this point in time, there is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 transmission is occurring in our school buildings,” Da Silva wrote. “Additionally, no student or faculty member who has been required to quarantine due to an exposure at school has tested positive for COVID-19.

“We believe that the mitigation efforts being practiced in our school buildings are effective and that our RPS cases are likely coming from outside sources,” she said.

“In addition, State of Connecticut epidemiologists said that the incidence of transmission within school buildings across Connecticut is remarkably low.”

In an interview Saturday Da Silva explained that the “buildings open on Wednesdays” addressed the fact that in the “moderate risk” scenario which the schools had switched to last week, buildings were closed on Wednesdays and it was used as a cleaning day. But in the “low risk model” the schools are returning to, buildings are occupied on Wednesdays — by all kids in the elementary schools, and by switching cohorts in the middle and high schools.

“In a ‘moderate risk’ the school buildings are actually closed for kids and for faculty — we’re transitioning back to the buildings being open on Wednesdays,” Da Silva said.

With the exception of the middle schools, she said, “We’re back to the model basically that we had before this week.”

Middle schools

The middle schools are scheduled to take a week longer than the high school and the six elementary schools to transition back to low risk, Da Silva said, because of the number of students and faculty quarantining at the middle school level.

According to the school systems’ COVID data tracker on Sunday, systemwide there were 187 students and 48 faculty at various stages of 14-day quarantines. Of those, 136 students and 24 faculty were from the two middle schools.

Barlow cases

The most recent incident listed in the tracker is two “probably cases” at Barlow Mountain Elementary School. For these, the data tracker says “contact tracing still in progress.” The dates for the potential exposures at Barlow Mountain School are listed as Oct. 22, 23 and Oct. 26, 27, 29 and 30.

School officials and health authorities routinely review the COVID-19 situation on Friday to make a decision about the coming week. Da Silva said they will try to stick to that, but raised the possibility that rush of events could push authorities to vary from that pattern.

“...the data shows COVID-19 infections in both Fairfield County and Ridgefield to be trending upward,” she said. “Our goal is to make learning model adjustments only on Fridays, but it is important to understand that we may need to adjust more frequently given the fluid nature of the pandemic.”:

She discussed the decision-making process.

“As a reminder,” Da Silva said, “many factors go into public health decision making, including but not limited to: the overall prevalence of COVID-19 in Fairfield County, the number of new cases in Ridgefield, whether the source of the infection is known or unknown, the timeframe in which new infections appear, and other privileged health information.”