The Cheshire School District presented it’s official plan for reopening late last week, but it might not be long before it is changed yet again.
Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan released the plan, along with a short video, on Friday, July 24. At the time, the state had been mandating that all districts in Connecticut devise proposals to offer in-school instruction to all students who opted for it.
However, on Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont changed course and is now allowing districts to determine for themselves whether or not to adopt a mix of in-school and remote learning. On Tuesday, Solan confirmed to The Herald that the state’s new guildelines will require administrators to revisit the District’s plan to see if alterations are now appropriate.
“(Lamont) acknowledged that, particularly for large high schools like CHS, there is little that can be done to adequately mitigate risks,” said Solan, in an email to The Herald. “Cohorting has a significantly adverse impact on courses which can be offered and social distancing more than 1,500 people is almost impossible. That, compounded by the fact that high school populations are physically larger on average and carry a greater risk of spread are all considerations for both Connecticut and Cheshire. In light of the state's reversal, we are re-evaluating our plan to make sure that we are providing the best balance of educational opportunities and health considerations.”
A special virtual meeting of the Board of Education has been scheduled for Wednesday, July 29, at 6:30 p.m.
If Cheshire stays with its current plan, students and staff will be required to wear masks or face coverings throughout the day while in school. However, ample time would be set aside throughout the course of the day for “mask breaks.”
Students at the lower levels would primarily stay in one room — referred to as cohorting — with different instructors coming in and out of the class as necessary throughout the day. At the middle school, students will cohort within their team — each team is estimated to be approximately 100 students — with instructors coming to different classrooms when necessary.
Because of the variety of courses offered and the structure of the Cheshire High School day, cohorting would not be possible at CHS.
Other highlights of the plan include:
*Art and music classes will be held outside or in large venues when possible, in order to adhere to the 12-foot separation recommended for students singing or playing an instrument. Visual arts instruction will likely involve virtual or video tutorial options.
*Athletic competition has been recommended by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, and all students will be able to participate provided they adhere to whatever safety precautions are required for those individual sports.
*Club meetings and extra curricular activities are expected to be held remotely to begin the year, with the District scheduled to re-evaluate that decision on Oct. 1.
*Food services will be operational, but parents will be encouraged to send students to school with lunches when possible to support “efficiency during lunch.”
*Buses will continue to run and there are no plans to decrease the number of routes for the upcoming school year. Social distancing and face coverings will be required by all who ride the bus.
“I know you realize how difficult driving your child to school can be now,” stated Solan, “... we are working on improving that process with the [police department] as we anticipate more traffic.”
According to Solan, the “vast majority” of parents who were surveyed by the District intend to have their children ready to return to classes in the fall. However, for those who do not feel comfortable, remote learning will be offered. For those students, a “synchronous” option will be made available, whereby students, through the use of devices and “advanced audio/visual technology,” will be able to participate in their respective classes in real-time, with the ability to ask and answer questions while the class is being conducted.
Not all classes will be able to provide such an experience and, where synchronous remote learning is not available, other options will be offered.
Also up in the air is the school calendar, which Solan stated will be addressed at Wednesday’s meeting.
“We were already looking to push the start of the school year until past Labor Day,” said Solan. “It might be cooler for our students to manage masks and heat in the buildings.”
The tentative plan right now is for the school year to begin on Tuesday, Sept. 8, a day after Labor Day.
School administrators stress that everything is dependent upon the state’s numbers as they pertain to the COVID-19 pandemic. If a moderate outbreak were to occur, Cheshire would move to a hybrid plan, where students would be split into “cohorts” and attend school on alternating days. For instance, under Cheshire’s hybrid plan, students in Cohort 1 would attend classes on Monday and Tuesday with Cohort 2 students participating remotely. On Thursday and Friday, the groups would switch, with all students working from home on Wednesdays.
As far as how the schools will handle possible infection, anyone who reports as showing symptoms will be quarantined on school premises in an “isolation room” until such time as they can be picked up by a parent or guardian. Notifications will be released to the community through a process yet to be determined, with all privacy measures respected.
The District is urging all families to review the information on reopening, available at http://www.cheshire.k12.ct.us/.