Board of Education Updates/Approves Full Return
Middle and high school students will return to school buildings full time next month, as approved at the Board of Education’s October 6 virtual meeting.
Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue also shared an update on the return of elementary and intermediate students to school buildings full time as of October 5.
“As you know, we are back in full with our kindergarten through sixth grade,” said Rodrigue when updating the board on the district’s younger students return to full time in person learning. “And, while of course it is only the second day, we had approximately 90 percent of our students who have returned. I’ve heard only positives from both staff and families.”
The superintendent noted that she monitored traffic at “two of our more challenging schools,” Hawley Elementary School and Reed Intermediate School, the morning of Monday, October 5. Other than some of the expected traffic, she said she felt things went “smoothly.” Rodrigue also noted the district has bus monitors rotating as “we are missing a few.” The monitors ride the buses with students to monitor and assist in supporting pandemic protocols.
Both district staff and parents have e-mailed her to share how excited elementary school students are to be “really, fully, back in school,” she said, and the pandemic precautionary measures are continuing to be followed.
Noting she joined a phone call with the Department of Health and state epidemiologists that morning, Dr Rodrigue said, “Newtown is at zero percent cases. So this really was the perfect opportunity to begin to bring students back all in.”
Later the board voted to have middle school and high school students return to school buildings full time on November 2.
Newtown High School Principal Dr Kimberly Longobucco and Newtown Middle School Principal Tom Einhorn both presented proposed schedules to handle social distancing measures with the student body fully back in both schools.
Since the start of the school year, Newtown students have been attending school with a hybrid model, with cohorts attending either on Monday and Tuesday or on Thursday and Friday, with all students learning remotely Wednesdays and some families opting to have students learn remotely full time.
Rodrigue noted at the October 6 meeting that the hybrid model was used at the start of the year with the goal of bringing primary students back full time first, then to bring the secondary students back full time. She said the middle school and high school are more complex “schedule-wise” in the ability to social distance, with increased populations in classes, hallways, and, “of course, lunch.”
“They tried to really work together on this because students do ride the buses together, and this will include some early dismissal time to make this schedule work with grab and go lunches and without having to rotate students through lunches,” said Rodrigue.
Speaking about the high school’s proposed schedule, Longobucco explained for classrooms, “We can make this schedule work, [but] the reality of the situation is we only have so much indoor cafeteria spots for our students who are safely six feet from each other. And that poses a significant challenge when there are 1,500 mouths to feed and shuffle through very few cafeteria spaces and a couple tents.”
As proposed, NHS would run five classes in the building every day for students then provide a lunch and travel block, when students would leave NHS to travel home. They would then log on to their last class of the day to learn remotely. According to a schedule shared via Zoom, the NHS day would begin at 8 am, the lunch and travel block would begin at 12:30 pm, and students would log back on computers from home by 1:42 pm.
With NHS’s rotating schedule, Longobucco noted, each class would be remote once during the class rotation.
“This brings it back to a little more normalcy in our school,” said Longobucco, later sharing that the rotating schedule was the same schedule implemented prior to the pandemic with the exception of the early dismissal for learning from home at the end of the day.
The class periods will drop from roughly 57 minutes to 50 minutes; “However it is still a very appropriate length of time to get adequate education and work done during that period,” Longobucco noted.
Later she explained with fall sports set to be done the first week in November, students who participate in after-school activities would be responsible for returning to school for those activities and sports, once sports resume the following season.
The district would not need more buses to return to having the middle school and high school students back full time, according to the meeting’s discussion.
Einhorn said his school’s proposed schedule is similar to the high school’s, as students would be dismissed around 12:32 pm to go home, eat lunch, and log back on from home for the last class of the day, which would rotate. He noted that the school worked with cafeteria staff to ensure there would be an efficient way for students to “grab and go” lunch before dismissing for the day.
“This way we have an orderly way of moving kids out of the building,” said Einhorn.
NMS after-school activities are conducted remotely, according to Einhorn, so students would not return to the school once dismissed.
After voicing concern over possibly “overly complicated” schedules, whether students would have enough time to eat without stressing before remotely logging on for the final class of the day, and whether the district should have students return full time to in person learning if there if not in a place to have them all back safely, Dan Cruson, Jr, was the only vote against the motion to have NMS and NHS students return full time.
“I’m not comfortable that it is necessarily what is best for the students,” Cruson said.
Members John Vouros and Debbie Leidlein were not present for the meeting, which was conducted via Zoom and streamed on YouTube.