Darien schools submit three draft reopening plans to the state
In compliance with the Connecticut State Department of Education’s reopening plan, Darien schools submitted three draft plans to the state for the district to start the 2020/21 school year.
“The district’s plan to reopen schools is the product of the hard work and recommendations from the District Reopening Task Force, feedback from staff and parents, advice from legal counsel, and input from our health professionals, the town’s health director, and the district’s medical adviser,” Superintendent Alan Addley said in his cover email.
The plan: Adapt, Advance, Achieve: Connecticut’s Plan to Learn and Grow Together — requires all districts to plan for the following three learning models, in the wake of school closures in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic:
— In person return: Students physically return to school five days a week, following health and safety guidelines. This model provides an elective opt out provision for students to be provided with remote learning experiences instead of attending school.
— Hybrid return: Students engage in a combination of in-person and remote eLearning experiences
— Remote learning return: Students are not physically present but learn through synchronous and asynchronous eLearning experiences using a virtual platform.
“Thank you to the staff and parents for their countless hours of dedicated work in developing this comprehensive plan. Decisions were made in the best interest of all students with the priority of ensuring the health and safety of students and staff,” Addley said in the email.
Addley added that “feedback from all constituents proved extremely helpful and is reflected throughout the plan.”
“The start of any school year is always a special time filled with excitement and nervous anticipation, but even more so this year. Know the staff will be professionally ready to welcome your children back with love, hope, confidence and solid preparation,” he said.
The District Reopening Schools Task Force engaged 50 individuals, including teachers, administrators, special education service providers and Board of Ed representation. The team held four meetings in which they identified lessons learned from spring closing, reviewed guiding documents and discussed problems with reopening and found solutions.
Survey data from families provided important guidance. Parents were surveyed about whether they intended to send their children to school in the fall and whether they would use school transportation. The district may send out further short surveys.
The plan focused on a series of guiding principles, including health and safety, student equity, social and emotional learning, achievement, communication and innovation.
A different look
Schools were also directed to review building space to reconfigure available classrooms, including gyms and auditoriums, to maximize social distancing for students. All students and staff are expected to wear masks while indoors, allowing for certain exceptions.
Students will be grouped in cohorts, with the same students and teacher as an independent team.
Buses will operate close to capacity, with heightened health and safety protocols, including all students wearing face coverings.
An isolation room will be established in each school to separate individuals exhibiting any symptoms of an illness to minimize the possible risk of transmission.
Parents should monitor their children’s temperature and symptoms every day before getting on the bus or entering a school. Staff should do the same for themselves. All are required to stay home if they exhibit symptoms, including a temperature over 100 degrees, or if they were diagnosed with COVID-19 or have been near someone who has.
The school community is required to report illness to the school nurse for tracking and potential contact tracing, Everyone must comply with travel restrictions, and any required 14-day quarantines.
All staff and students are required to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds upon school entry, after bathroom trips, before eating, after outdoor activities and if hands are dirty. Hand sanitizer will be available throughout the building.
Masks are required and can be fabric or manufactured surgical masks. Valves are not acceptable. Mask exceptions must be documented by a medical provider.
For elementary schools, each grade level is considered a cohort. There will be individual classes within the cohort.
Middlesex students will be grouped for core academic classes with the same subset of their cohort, with some exceptions. Transitions will be minimal with teachers moving from class to class instead of students when possible.
Darien High School will operate on a block schedule with four classes meeting each school day. Additional efforts to maximize social distancing will be implemented. An open campus policy allowing seniors to leave will be implemented to reduce the number of students with free periods in the building.
The school district updated its cleaning procedures in response to COVID-19, including adding part-time staff to address the additional cleaning needs, increasing frequency of daily sanitizing in high traffic areas, leaving doors open as permitted by safety code, and removing all rugs and extra furniture from classrooms.
Additionally, lunch will be held in classrooms, all restrooms will be cleaned more during the school day, and all playground equipment will be sprayed daily with a no-rinse sanitizer/cleaner.
There will be daily cleaning after school. Fridays will include an early dismissal for an additional deep cleaning and sanitizing of all school facilities.
All HVAC systems will be serviced before the school year starts. Restroom exhaust fans will run continuously.
If the district proceeds with full in-person learning, there is a detailed plan.
For elementary schools, students will go directly to their classroom and start the morning in a “calm and reassuring way.” All students will have a daily morning meeting and engage in face-to-face teaching using a modified curriculum. The daily schedule will allow for regular breaks for students to get outside, enjoy snacks or remove masks to socialize when appropriately spaced.
At Middlesex, students will enter through their assigned door and proceed to their cohort. Hallways and stairs have been marked as one way to ensure social distancing. Students will not use the hallway lockers; they must carry all their supplies in their backpacks. Students will remain in their rooms for two or three academic periods, and movement and mask breaks are part of the daily schedule. Dismissal will be staggered by grade level.
High school students will enter through the main entrance, library entrance, cafeteria and athletic loop, and directed to their classroom. The Open Ends program will be expanded so that all students with parental permission who do not have classes in the first time slot will be allowed to remain home until their first class. This also allows students who have the last time slot free to leave early.
Darien High will use a block schedule model with lunch embedded. Students who buy lunch must order in advance and boxed lunches will be delivered to classrooms. The cafeteria and designated outdoor areas will be available for students who do not have class. Hallways and stairways will be one way as much as possible. Students, faculty and staff must wear masks.
Currently, fall sports are scheduled to proceed with ongoing guidance from the CIAC. Clubs will meet virtually with a possibility to propose in-person meetings.
While the state required districts to propose a five-day in-person return to school, families have the option to temporarily opt out. For those students, the district will offer remote learning.
The primary delivery of remote learning will be streaming into classrooms. Other modes may include individual or group live streaming sessions with staff, and independent completion of work.
Families who opt out will be contacted by the district to plan for assessments that cannot be completed remotely.
Other focuses of the in-person plan include arrangements for social and emotional learning, music instruction, career and technical education, technology, and staff support.
Staff will be provided with comprehensive COVID-19 training and an Educators’ Assistance Program, which offers employees counseling, assessment and referral services for work and life problems.
The district also included reopening plans that specifically address inclusion and equity as per state requirements.
The Early Learning Program will include class sizes in the range of 8 to 14 students, and appropriate social distancing will be implemented. They will be divided into cohorts at Ox Ridge, Tokeneke, and Royle Elementary schools. Nonessential items including toys and materials that cannot be disinfected have been removed from classrooms.
State guidelines do not require preschool students to wear a mask but the district will be encouraging mask wearing when riding the bus, walking in hallways and during specific play activities.
All staff members are required to wear masks unless outside and spaced six feet apart.
Buses will be regularly sanitized and operate at near full capacity with all students wearing masks, and entering the bus back to front.
Drop-offs and pickups will be coordinated and staggered to encourage social distancing.
The state school days requirement has been shortened from 180 to 177. The first day of school is a half day on Sept. 3.
For elementary schools, the hybrid plan means kindergarten, second and fourth grade students will attend on Mondays and Wednesdays, and Tuesdays and Thursdays will welcome first, third, and fifth grade students. Remote learning will be held on Fridays to allow for extra building sanitation.
Middlebrook’s hybrid plan focuses on an A/B rotational schedule with all students learning remotely on Fridays. The buildings will operate on 50 percent capacity. Like elementary schools, the schools will have extra cleanings on Fridays.
Darien High’s plan will also be A/B rotations for 50 percent capacity. Students will learn remotely on Fridays. The division will be alphabetically by last name.
ELP students will attend school four days a week on the hybrid plan.
Technology to be used for the remote planning includes Aspen, DPS Remote learning site, email, Google classroom, Google G suite, Seesaw and Zoom.
The district also offered guidelines for parents and guardians for remote learning, including providing an environment conducive to learning, establishing routines and expectations, engaging in conversations about lessons, and communicating with a teacher.
Students’ roles and responsibilities include establishing a daily schedule, keeping materials nearby, communicating with teachers and other adults, engaging in learning with honesty, submitting all assignments on time, and keeping healthy habits.
The plan also outlines administrators’ and staff’s roles and provides a tentative hourly schedule for ELP, elementary, middle school and the high school.
It also outlines assessment plans for each grade level.
Board of Education Chairman Tara Ochman served on the operations committee of the task force.
On Tuesday, in an email to The Darien Times, she said, “The administration worked hard to put forward a solid operational plan to meet the State deadline of July 24.”
“I would urge everyone to continue to understand that this is an evolving situation. The school district will continue to adjust and react to the realities of our environment as we get closer to the opening of school,” Ochman said.
Ochman pointed out that on Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont announced that districts will have local control in determining what model to utilize when opening schools.
“I would also expect to hear continued conversation around the board table,” she said.
The Board of Education meets on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The school reopening plan is on the agenda. For information on how to watch live, visit https://www.darienps.org/apps/events2/event.jsp?eREC_ID=2943950&d=2020-07-28&id=0 .