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Students To Return Under Hybrid School Model



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Local students will return to school buildings with a hybrid education model in September.

Newtown Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue recommended using the previously outlined hybrid model at the Board of Education’s August 6 special meeting, which was held in person at Reed Intermediate School with social distancing measures for board members and streamed virtually and via phones for the public.

The district’s re-entry plan was outlined at the Board of Education’s July 21 meeting.

Per state requirements and recommendations at the time, the district prepared three models for students to learn in the fall; two of the three involve students in school buildings. At the time, 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,” would be implemented for most students returning to on-site learning while distance learning is provided to students who opt to stay home. In the second, the 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 in two alternating groups, with off-site students receiving instruction via distance learning.

The third model, the full distance learning model for “substantial community transmission,” would have 100 percent of students being instructed from home.

Since the three education models were first presented, the state announced that district superintendents can make decisions regarding re-opening schools. That offers more flexibility than the state’s original directive to have all students return to school full-time, Dr Rodrigue explained.

Hybrid Model Rationale

In a presentation for the special meeting, Dr Rodrigue shared her thinking behind using the hybrid model to “phase in” to a full-time model, assuming health metrics allow for that.

Some reasons the superintendent outlined in favor of the hybrid model to start the year include other sectors and businesses in the state using “phased in” approaches to reopen; allowing a reduction in student population density to help mitigate the risk of infection; other countries using similar methods to return students in waves; allowing the district to experience the “all in” model and the distance learning model; and providing students, staff, and families time to practice mitigation strategies and protocols before attending school full-time again, if possible.

“We have worked so hard to create a plan that supports our students and our staff,” said Dr Rodrigue.

She added that the Newtown Federation of Teachers has shared a letter with concerns regarding returning to school buildings, namely the ability to maintain safety protocols, social distancing, and interacting with others, the superintendent said.

“So returning to a hybrid model... makes so much sense,” Dr Rodrigue concluded.

While the state’s current health trends support returning to school full-time, Dr Rodrigue said, she stressed that the hybrid model would allow safety measures to be practiced before phasing in to a full-time model. If health metrics allow, Dr Rodrigue suggested using October 5 as a potential date to have all kindergarten to sixth grade students return full time and to have seventh to twelfth grade students return for November 2.

The superintendent also said she is available to address parents’ questions and concerns, and that she plans to release a letter to parents outlining the hybrid model and sharing a parent survey that will help determine the number of students who will be riding buses in the school year.

“These are not easy decisions, but I have to do what I feel is right for students, staff, and the entire community,” Dr Rodrigue said.

Also during the special meeting, board member Deborra Zukowski told colleagues that she presented ideas regarding busing to All-Star Transportation, and that the company is looking into those ideas.

Additionally, the school board had a first read of three new policies at the meeting. Those policies, which address equity and diversity, pandemic/epidemic emergencies, and distance learning due to health and safety school closures, are expected to be brought up at the next board meeting for potential approval.

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