The three faces of Ridgefield’s school reopening plan: Classes every day, all online, or a combination
With such a wide range — from in-person classes five days a week to online-only instruction for all students — it would be an understatement to say Ridgefield school officials put together a reopening plan for tonight’s virtual Board of Education meeting.
The plan is more like plans, plural.
When Gov. Ned Lamont and the state education department announced their school reopening guidelines last month, one of the requests was for individual districts to design several models based on COVID-19 risk levels. Those district plans must be given to the state this Friday, July 24.
Ridgefield’s reopening strategy — discussed at a virtual Town Hall question-and-answer meeting last Wednesday — includes three models: Plan A (low risk) is for students in school five days each week; Plan B (moderate risk) is for a mix of in-school and remote learning; and Plan C (high risk) is for remote learning only.
The state will determine the risk levels (according to COVID-19 data) and inform the school districts. Connecticut is currently at low risk, meaning schools should plan to have students in class each day.
“Our purview is within the design of each model; we have flexibility to be creative and innovative,” said Liz Hannaway, an assistant superintendent who is one of the co-chairs for Ridgefield’s school reopening committee.
“What we don’t have purview over is the type of model that we have to implement given our risk level. So what we are anxiously awaiting is how to define that risk, and then we will know what we have to implement.”
The state’s reopening guidelines call for Connecticut students to return to classrooms five days a week when schools begin the 2020-21 academic year in late August. Students, teachers and staff must wear face masks throughout the day, except for several breaks that include lunch. Schools must also follow social-distancing protocols, such as keeping desks and tables three-to-six feet apart.
Based on the state’s guidelines, districts do not have the option of beginning the 2020-21 school year with either a hybrid or remote-learning model replacing in-class instruction. But the state also has said that districts must offer an online-only program for parents who don’t want their children returning to in-person classes this fall.
As part of last week’s virtual town hall, the Ridgefield school district published a guide to frequently asked questions in 14 categories: face masks, reopening models, space, visitors, cleaning/disinfecting, ventilation, COVID response, quarantining, social distancing, cohorting, screening, materials, food, and transportation. The FAQ list is available on the Ridgefield Public Schools website (ridgefield.org).
Among the answers, the district said families can change their mind (whenever they want) about their child’s enrollment status and then switch from distance learning to in-class learning, or vice versa.
Also: Daily temperature checks of students and staff will not be administered (due to the chance of false positives); technology training will be available for parents who want to help their children with online learning; visitors will not be allowed to enter schools; all schools will be sanitized at the end of each school day; and the district is exploring the use of bus monitors to oversee loading and unloading, seating arrangements, and face-mask requirements.
Ridgefield schools Superintendent Susie Da Silva took part in a Facebook forum co-hosted by State Sen. Will Haskell, whose 26th District includes Ridgefield, and State Rep. Lucy Dathan of New Canaan. Da Silva stressed the importance of teamwork in reopening plans.
“We’ve created partnerships in education that we’ve never had before, and that’s a testament to the teachers, the parents, our boards of education, the community,” Da Silva said. “As a result, we’re moving in the right direction.”
But with only one full day separating the Ridgefield school district’s reopening presentation to the Board of Education and Friday’s deadline for districts to send their plans to the state, Da Silva acknowledged that time is tight.
“It’s cutting it close — the feedback has to come quick and we have to make the shifts,” she said. “There’s a lot of detail we have to be thinking about.”