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Tuesday, August 11 News

Westport school reopening committee presents early plans for fall

WESTPORT — The town is continuing its three-pronged approach to reopening schools in the fall, pending further or more precise information from the state.

On Monday, the town’s School Reopening Steering Committee presented a report on work it’s done over the past month to prepare for the fall school year.

“This is a working draft,” Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said at a Board of Education meeting. “These are not recommendations at this point. These are just ideas and things that are being developed, and some of our best thinking at this time.”

Buono, who also co-chairs the reopening committee, said state guidelines for reopening schools were Monday afternoon but more time was needed to incorporate them in local plans.

The committee is still working on a three-pronged approach: a blended learning model, strengthening the distance learning program and a complete return to the schools, he said.

“The goal of the state at this time and the recommendation is to get all of our students back to the schools in the fall,” he said.

The state guidelines strongly encourage schools to group students in small permanent groups to encourage social distancing and minimize the chance of closing a school if an infection is reported.

Suzanne Lavassuer, supervisor of health services, said spacing between desks, as well as staggering of arrival and dismissal times, are all being considered.

“I think as we start to map this out and start to wrap our brains around how many kids will be coming to school at one time, we’ll have to look at some of these different entry ways,” Lavassuer said.

Transportation will be available, but Lavasseur said the district would encourage parents to transport their kids. Schools will also monitor attendance and illness to track trends.

“Students who have medical conditions that might put them at risk, or they might have a a family member who’s immunocompromised or has other risk factors, will be provided options for virtual learning,” she said. “Certainly this will be done on a case-by-case basis.”

BOE member Vik Muktavaram said he was glad state guidelines had came in, but noted the importance of the community’s confidence in the guidelines.

“The transparency, the way we are doing it now, I think is incredibly helpful in terms of alleviating some of those concerns,” he said. “I just want to reiterate that it’s important to consider the aspect in terms of confidence.”

Muktavaram said the earlier specific concerns can be addressed, the better prepared the district will be.

Several parents submitted public comment voicing concern they were being left out of the decision making process.

But Lavassuer said the steering committee is proposing frequent updates throughout the summer to keep the community up-to-date.

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“I think communication is key in allowing families and staff to speak to us directly or contact us easily with any concerns and addressing them then,” she said.

Lavassuer said the committee has also been working with Westport-Weston Health District Health Director Mark Cooper to possibly set specific triggers for closing a school, or the district, if COVID-19 cases begin to spike again.

“We don’t have the specifics ironed out yet, but that is part of the plan.” she said.

Board members also discussed paying for implementing guidelines to accommodate changes, such as bus monitors, in the fall.

John Bayers, co-chair of the reopening committee, said now that state guidelines hae been released, the committee would be able to answer budget concerns in the coming weeks.

“Now that we have the guidelines from (the state) we will be in a better position to provide a financial update for the board in the next few weeks,” he said. “Therefore the board will be in a better position to move forward to the Board of Finance, the RTM and whoever else is needed in the conversation.”

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com

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