Ridgefield school mask policy remains intact as return plan in flux

RIDGEFIELD — An updated version of the district’s safe return plan was shared with Board of Education members Tuesday night, but some strategies remain in flux as officials await further guidance from the state and keep an eye on local COVID numbers.

During the presentation, Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Elizabeth Hannaway reviewed components of the plan that could change if case counts continue to rise. This includes allowing visitors into school buildings, permitting events and performances — some with capacity limits — and giving parents the option to meet with faculty either in person or virtually.

Although field trips will be permitted this year, they are also subject to change if the district needs to “execute a more conservative stance,” Hannaway said.

The draft plan greatly differs from the reopening strategy implemented at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.

“Namely because we weren’t required to follow a template as we were given (by the state Department of Education) last school year,” Hannaway explained.

Officials have also received input from families since presenting the plan in June — with a handful opposing its masking policy. According to the document, students and staff must continue to wear masks while inside school buildings and on the bus.

“Personally, I’m so happy that we’re going back with masks with all the unknowns out there,” board member Kathleen Holz said.

On masking, board member Tina Malhotra posed a hypothetical question: Could the district face ramifications should it choose not to follow the governor’s executive order?

Superintendent Susie Da Silva said she and members of the board could personally be held liable.

Gov. Ned Lamont has granted local municipal leaders the authority to enact their own requirements for indoor masking at local businesses. Cities like Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford now plan to require everyone — regardless of vaccination status — to wear masks indoors.

However, Lamont said he was waiting to make a decision on whether to require students to wear masks when classes resume.

Back to school

Next month, Ridgefield students will return to classrooms for full, in-person learning. The district will restore 40 minutes cut from the school day last year to limit congregating during arrival and dismissal.

Although no virtual or hybrid model will be offered, Hannaway said families could consult with their school administration and nurse about learning options for students with medical complications.

The district will continue to conduct contact tracing for COVID cases and publish data on its tracker website. But students and staff who are vaccinated and not showing symptoms will not be required to isolate if they come into contact with someone who is infected.

“We hope that the levels of quarantining will be far reduced because of the vaccination participation we believe exists out there for middle and high school (students),” Hannaway said.

Three building subs will provide synchronous instruction to elementary school students across the district in the event of an individual or class quarantine to ensure continuity of learning.

In addition to accelerating learning after 18 months of instructional interruptions, the plan also focuses on supporting the social-emotional well being of students and staff.

“We have some students who have not been in person all (of) last year — paying attention to who those kids are is really important,” Hannaway said. “We have some students who have had COVID, and we’re starting to learn more … about the concept of long COVID and the long-term impacts (of that).”