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Superintendent Authorized To Adjust Fall Return Plan



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On August 11, a quorum of four Board of Education members unanimously authorized Newtown’s Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue to make changes to its 2021-22 Return To School Plan following an executive order by the governor. Members John Vouros, Debbie Leidlein, and Rebekah Harriman-Stites did not participate.

As Board of Education Chair Michelle Embree Ku explained at the special virtual meeting, the governor’s latest executive order extends existing mandates through September 30.

Mostly, Ku said, the mitigation strategies for schools remain the same, although she pointed out one quarantining practice has changed: If students are seated three feet apart and wearing masks, then a student seated near another student diagnosed with COVID-19 would not have to quarantine. Ku emphasized, however, that students would have to be wearing masks during the time in question.

The Return To School Plan was originally approved by the school board in June. Since then, Ku reflected, more information has been determined about the COVID-19 delta variant.

The previous executive order, Ku explained, directed the Department of Health to give binding guidance regarding the pandemic, and that guidance includes having masks be worn in schools. While she said Governor Ned Lamont has indicated that may change, it has not changed yet.

The original Return To School Plan regarding masks read, “It is our on-going interest and intent to create and maintain an environment that is conducive to students’ health and well-being. Newtown Public Schools will only mandate masks, for both students and adults, in schools when required by Executive Orders or requirements by the State.” The August 5 executive order impacts this portion of the plan.

Regarding masks, as of August 11, Dr Rodrigue said, “We don’t have a choice right now, we really don’t.”

During public participation — which was affected by technical difficulties — a number of parents shared input on students returning to school. Most said they supported having parents choose whether their child wears a mask in school while others voiced support for medical guidance or decisions made by the school board and school district.

While the board did not authorize specific changes to the Return To School Plan, it voted to authorize Dr Rodrigue to make changes, which, as pointed out by board Secretary Dan Cruson, Jr, will expedite the decision-making process considering how quickly information about the pandemic can change.

Dr Rodrigue also said, “Our most important goal... is getting students back to school in full.”

In response to the latest executive order, discussion at the meeting included having students wear masks for the start of the school year.

Dr Rodrigue said she wants families to know students are being supported in “every way possible,” and she said classes will use outdoor space when possible along with other methods of allowing mask breaks.

With the new executive order from the governor, Dr Rodrigue shared upcoming changes to the Return to School Plan, including having masks worn in school, masks being worn on transportation, and how cafeteria space will be shared to allow all students access, which may require rotating classes to eat in classrooms.

“At this point, we do have to follow the state,” said Dr Rodrigue.

After discussion and Dr Rodrigue saying she would share updates with the board regarding any changes made to the Return To School Plan, the four participating Board of Education members authorized her to make any changes to the plan.

Dr Rodrigue said other changes could occur depending on the community spread levels of COVID-19 and the ongoing practices.

Ahead of the 2021-22 school year start date — which is set for August 30 for students — Dr Rodrigue plans to send out more information to district community members.


Education Reporter Eliza Hallabeck can be reached at eliza@thebee.com.

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