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BOE COVID-19 Update: ‘Day By Day’



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Along with hearing the superintendent’s COVID-19 update, the Board of Education approved its monthly financial report and a new district position for a diversity compliance coordinator at its November 17 meeting.

Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Dr Rodrigue reminded the board that there have been multiple confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the school district.

“That has impacted classrooms and staffing,” said Dr Rodrigue.

Kindergarten to twelfth grade students began the year attending in a hybrid model, with students attending school in the buildings or virtually in rotating cohorts, and with no students in schools on Wednesdays. Middle and high school students were expected to return in full to buildings on November 2, until an October 29 decision was made to continue the hybrid model at those grades; elementary and intermediate school students returned to school buildings in full on October 5. On November 12, Dr Rodrigue notified school families that elementary and intermediate school students would return to the hybrid model starting November 23.

Then on November 18, Dr Rodrigue announced all schools will use the district’s remote learning model instead from November 23 to December 4 due to a rise in quarantine cases.

The biggest challenge for the district, she said the night before at the virtual meeting, is staffing, and more substitute teachers are being hired “by the day.”

“We’re taking this day by day. That’s all you can do,” Dr Rodrigue said.

Being in school is “good for kids,” the superintendent said, adding that “we have to be fair, though, reasonable, and we have to make sure people are safe.

“We have to make the decisions we make, even though they may impact our families, and I know that is not easy for families, especially if we go fully remote. That’s probably going to be the hardest.”

In response to a question from Board of Education Chair Michelle Embree Ku, Dr Rodrigue shared that there has been no evidence of COVID-19 transmission in the schools, based on contact tracing and individuals quarantined.

“These are all singleton cases coming in... and we can trace them back, sadly,” said Dr Rodrigue. Later she added, “We can trace them to a sleepover party or a gathering of some sort, or an adult on a sports team. Again, all of that, they were all single cases and were known in enough time, [and] either we got them early enough and they did not come to school or they were in school and we had them leave.”

Ku said she wanted to make clear that the staffing issues and students out from school for quarantine were not due to transmission in the schools.

As part of her Chair Report that evening, Ku said keeping students in school as a priority means “each person in Newtown is going to need to make personal decisions that reflect that.” Saying Newtown has kept numbers of transmission down in the past, Ku said “now is the important time” to reflect that priority through actions and not just words.

Committing To Diversity And Equity

Later in the meeting, the board unanimously approved a new position, a diversity compliance coordinator, to be created and filled. According to a draft for the position’s description, the diversity compliance coordinator would be responsible for overseeing the district’s commitments to diversity and equity and to ensure practices, procedures, and policies are applied consistently across the Newtown Public School system. The draft also explains the coordinator would act as liaison between students, families, and staff “in the resolution of issues related to bullying, racism, harassment, and systemic inequities.”

The school board also unanimously approved its October financial report, as presented by Director of Business and Finance Tanja Vadas. Overall, Vadas shared there is a projected $13,024 budget balance, though that projection is subject to change. Vadas shared the state’s Coronavirus Relief Grant was approved, was split between expenses in the budget, and contributed to bringing the projected budget balance to the $13,024. According to the budget report, Newtown received $384,841 from the grant.

Vadas also mentioned the lunch program, overseen by Whitsons Culinary Group, is contributing to a projected negative balance of $104,623 in the contracted services area of the budget. Vadas said lunch sales have declined “drastically” due to the current environment, and fixed costs remain.

“This program will have to be subsidized by the board at some point,” Vadas added.

Vadas also said other towns across the state are experiencing similar situations with lunch service programs due to the pandemic.

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