Readying Schools For Returning Students And Teachers
Mid-summer is typically a busy cleaning time inside Newtown Public Schools, with preparations underway for the fall. This year, it is even busier.
“It’s been a lot of cleaning, shuffling around of furniture, things like that,” said Newtown Public Schools Facilities Director Bob Gerbert, Jr, on July 20. “We’re trying to make sure we are in a good position when we open that first day.”
Gerbert said some regular improvement work is being completed alongside preparations for students returning amidst a pandemic. Flooring work, for instance, is happening at Hawley Elementary School, Newtown Middle School, and Head O’ Meadow Elementary School. Things like carpeting and new vinyl floors are being installed in areas as part of building and grounds improvements, according to the facilities director.
The Board of Education heard and approved of Newtown’s three-model re-entry plan at its meeting on July 21. Per state requirements and recommendations, the district prepared three models for students to learn in the fall; two of the three involve students in school buildings. The state required all districts to plan for students to be in school full-time in the fall, but to also have other plans in place should the level of public health risk rise or should parents opt to have their children learn at home, as previously reported by The Newtown Bee.
Newtown’s first school model, with “little to no community transmission,” will mean most students returning to on-site learning while distance learning is provided to students who opt to stay home. In the second, a hybrid learning model for “minimal or moderate” transmission levels, the student population in school will be reduced by 50 percent, with students attending school on site on an alternating basis in two groups, with off-site students receiving instruction via distance learning. The third model, the full distance learning model for “substantial community transmission,” has 100 percent of students being instructed from home.
Gerbert said some things are “changing by the day,” and work is being done in the schools to meet all of the state requirements.
Part of the work in the schools this summer has been evaluating necessary and unnecessary furniture and “scaling back,” the facilities director shared.
“It helps with the spacing of the furniture,” Gerbert explained, adding that removing unneeded furniture also allows more room for students to gather with social distancing measures in place. Schools will practice social distancing with a minimum of three feet and use six-foot spacing when feasible, as previously reported.
According to Gerbert, the plan is for all of the furniture being removed from school buildings to be marked and the origin noted, so it can eventually be returned after being put in storage.
Cafeteria plans are causing some challenges, Gerbert shared, adding that each school is different. Some schools have longer folding tables that make it easier for students to sit with distance between them. The district is looking at attaining more tables like these for the other schools.
With a lot left to be done, Gerbert said the district is looking at completing the building preparations about two weeks before students return to school.
“We don’t want to be down to the wire with this,” Gerbert said.
Once students return in the fall, there will be more attention to cleaning for the 2020-21 school year than in previous school years.
“In general, cleaning is going to be amplified,” said Gerbert. “We’re going to do the best we can.”
Shifts are being coordinated to boost cleaning during lunch waves and nightly disinfecting efforts, according to Gerbert.
“They are going to do the best job they can to keep the teachers and the kids as safe as they can,” Gerbert said of his custodial and maintenance staff.
Overall, Gerbert said, “Everybody here in the whole district is working as hard as they can and doing the best job they can possibly do to make sure schools open in a safe manner for the teachers, students... and parents, so they can feel secure.”