Fairfield elementary schools expected to open full time in November
FAIRFIELD — Town elementary schools will be returning to full-time, in-person classes in November, district officials said.
The announcement was made in a four hour, sometimes emotional, Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, where members discussed the plan with Superintendent of Schools Mike Cummings.
Cummings said the plan is for students in kindergarten through second grade to return on Nov. 9, while those in grades three to five will start on Nov. 12. In the coming days, he said, parents will be getting requests to commit to in-person or fully virtual learning. Cummings later said the district was not yet in a position to discuss a full-time, in-person option for the middle and high schools.
“It will be no surprise that I am extremely disappointed in these dates,” board member Bonnie Rotelli said during the discussion. “Four weeks from now, to me, is too long to have these kids out of school.”
Rotelli asked for the district to speed up the timeline based on outcries from parents asking for a full-time option and concerns about the long-term impact on students not in school
“I am asking, I’m pleading really, with you and your staff, to somehow manage to cut back time and get these kids back sooner,” she said, later adding that four more weeks of children struggling is too much.
The superintendent said the dates were contingent on local and county health data, noting the district is “very aware” of predictions of a possible second wave as well as predictions that colder weather could increase the threat of transmission.
“I get nobody wants me to say that. Nobody wants to hear it,” he said. “But that’s the real fact of what we’re dealing with. I can’t tell you how many emails I got today from doctors in the community, who told me that we shouldn’t be doing this.”
Cummings said state health officials are reporting that there has yet to be a confirmed case of coronavirus in Connecticut that was the result on in-school transmission. But the district has seen a number of cases, especially at Fairfield Ludlowe High School.
More recently, Riverfield Elementary School closed for the week after a person there tested positive for COVID-19. As of Thursday morning, three students and two staff members were confirmed to have the virus, while 39 and 8 of them were in quarantine, respectively.
If the data prevents the reopening, Cummings said, the plans will be delayed — not abandoned. In the next month, he said the district would have to hire additional cleaning and lunch staff, determine bus schedules and technology needs, as well as see which students want to opt for remote learning and which would be interested in full-time, in person instruction.
In a recent survey of the school district, about 90 percent of parents who responded said they would opt for full-time, in person learning. These parents currently have children enrolled in the K-12 hybrid learning program. Only about 1 in 5 parents with students enrolled in the virtual learning academy said their children would return to the classroom.
Board member Jeff Peterson said families must make a commitment to follow virus prevention protocols while not in school.
“It’s frightfully important that these kids be in the classroom,” he said, adding that it is a top priority. “That may require sacrifices elsewhere to make sure that the health environment is as safe as possible for kids in schools.”
Rotelli said the district should not allow fear and anxiety to slow its reopening progress. She noted that some children who used to love school are losing interest in learning and becoming disengaged and withdrawn.
“We're failing those kids right now, and four weeks from now is a really long time, and we can talk about not being afraid but a lot of this is based in fear,” she said.
Later in the meeting, board member Trisha Pytko requested a vote to gauge the body’s interest in moving the reopening date to Nov. 3, but Chairwoman Christine Vitale ruled that the reopening date was outside of their purview. Rotelli challenged that ruling, but a vote on that challenge failed with only Pytko and Rotelli as affirmatives.
“I respect the date, the timeline, that has been given — me personally,” Vitale said. “I want kids to be back as soon as we possibly can, but I am trusting in the superintendent to tell me all the things that need to be done before that can happen.”