Ridgefield students in K-9 return to the classroom

RIDGEFIELD — A hint of normalcy permeated the late-summer air as children arrived at Veterans Park Elementary Monday morning for the first day of school. Students in grades K-9 reentered classrooms for full, in-person learning, a distinct change from how school began a year ago.

“It was a great day and great to see all the kids back,” Ridgebury Elementary School Principal Jamie Palladino said. “Teachers are excited to have children back and all of them in front of them. We had laughter, excitement and joy running through school today, and that is why we love what we do.”

Branchville Elementary School Principal Keith Margolus said as students arrived, they appeared to be smiling under their masks. “We are thrilled to have our community back together again,” he added.

At Ridgefield High School, ninth-grade students had freshman orientation to get acclimated to their new surroundings before the rest of their peers joined them on Tuesday.

Across the way at Scotts Ridge Middle School, Principal Tim Salem held the door open for students as they entered the building. He remarked that the first day was teeming with energy and enthusiasm.

“(Last) year there was a lot of trepidation on behalf of the kids coming in because there were … so many unknowns ... (but) this year everybody’s been really positive,” Salem said. “I think the newness of the year is always exciting ‘cause it’s a new beginning for all kids.”

A turf field is being installed at Scotts Ridge this fall, which will assist in social distancing during lunch periods, Salem explained.

Although the district is not offering a remote or hybrid option for students this year, “We’re prepared to shift our model, particularly at the secondary level,” Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Elizabeth Hannaway said at a Board of Education meeting last week.

A shift would likely come depending on the prevalence of the delta variant, she explained. In recent weeks, infections have reached highs not seen since April and Connecticut hospitals have more COVID patients than they did in early May.

The district is also preparing to screen students in grades K-6 on a weekly basis as soon as Sept. 13. The voluntary program is designed specifically for children who are ineligible to receive the vaccine and is intended to alleviate transmission in the event of a positive case.

Students, faculty and visitors are required to wear masks in school buildings and on buses regardless of vaccination status.

Ridgefield Public Schools’ Media Manager Alison Pratt said administrators spent the summer fielding new hires and engaging in team-building exercises to prepare for the year ahead. She added that all teachers participated in professional development sessions that focused on “rebounding” from an unprecedented pandemic year.

A copy of the district’s safe return plan can be found at www.ridgefield.org/News.

Nicholas Rondione contributed to this story.