FAIRFIELD, CT — While the specifics of the upcoming school year remain uncertain, one thing is for sure.
“The beginning of the school year is going to look very different from how it normally does,” Superintendent Mike Cummings said.
Cummings provided details at a Board of Education meeting held via teleconference Tuesday about how the school district’s plans for learning in a post-coronavirus world are beginning to take shape. One key component: face masks.
“Unless somebody has a note from a doctor, they’re going to be expected to wear a mask,” Cummings said.
With masks, the district can place students less than 6 feet apart, he said, adding schools are replacing shared table seating with traditional desks and removing furniture to free up space. The district is considering twice daily outdoor mask breaks, as well as potentially renting tents to expand cafeteria space.
Students won’t be able to share supplies, according to Cummings, and teachers may travel from room to room while students stay in one location to reduce the number of groups they encounter throughout the school day.
“We can try to work within a cohort as much as possible, but the very nature of our middle school program makes that very difficult,” he said, adding that keeping students in one group would be “impossible” at the high school level.
Transporting students to and from school presents another issue. The district is planning to start the year with buses at full capacity and make adjustments as needed.
“The logistics of arrival and dismissal are going to naturally extend the day,” Cummings said.
One question that remains is how many students will attend school in person. In a recent survey, 18 percent of responding district families said they would prefer to continue distance learning, which the district began in March as the virus spread.
The coronavirus has been associated with well over 4,000 Connecticut deaths since then, although death rates have largely leveled off in the last month. As the school year starts, the district is considering screening students for pandemic-related trauma, according to Robert Mancusi, executive director of special education and student services.
Of the certified staff surveyed, 28.2 percent said they would prefer to work remotely, despite not having any immunocompromised household members. Another 12.5 percent of certified staff reported having an immunocompromised person in their home.
The district is making plans for in-person learning, remote education and a hybrid model with students in the classroom part-time.
Next steps include determining which students and staff have decided not to return to school buildings, and placing students and staff in the appropriate learning environment. A draft district reopening plan is due to the state July 24.
For additional survey results, go to bit.ly/2OqfUmT.