Scarice: More Staples Students Return To School; Attendance, Social Gathering Updates

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent this email to Westport families yesterday:

As we round into our February vacation I would like to provide the school community with some updates.

Elementary Schools Update
Our elementary schools began to welcome back students for full time in-person instruction on January 28.

Our faculty, staff and administrators have done an outstanding job in safely and successfully bringing our students back. It is not the classroom of last year. This is a primary drawback.

Yet, the environment is most welcoming and positive based on the outstanding professionals in our schools. Additionally, the full instructional model, within limits based on our mitigating measures, can be fully implemented.

We will continue to make changes and modifications along the way, but it is certainly safe to say that we have successfully kicked off the second half of the year, and this success can be attributed to the teachers, leaders and support staff in our schools.

Middle School Learning Model
We have also had a very successful start to the full reopening of Bedford and Coleytown Middle Schools.

The first phase of this model included all students attending full days, four days a week, with a half remote day on Wednesdays. This phase will continue going forward and will be revisited in approximately 4-6 weeks.

There continues to be approximately 10% of our students engaged in full distance learning at the middle schools. These Wednesdays are invaluable for the planning and preparation teachers need to keep these students on pace for the current school year.

In addition, due to the need to provide appropriate supervision of students at arrival and dismissal (i.e. enforce COVID rules, prevent congregating, etc.) we have encroached on the time that is reserved for teachers before and after school, and as a result we moved some required professional meetings to Wednesdays.  For these reasons the current phase including half remote days on Wednesdays will continue at the middle schools for the time being.

Staples Learning Model Update
As mentioned in a previous message, there has been an effort to increase on-site learning for students at Staples High School, particularly after a successful start to full on-site schooling at the elementary and middle school levels.

The first phase of this effort will begin March 1. Although Staples Principal Stafford Thomas is sharing details to the Staples community regarding the calendar and schedule as it relates to individual students, I would like to make the entire Westport school community aware of the overall plan.

This next phase learning model for March is intended to increase on-site attendance to a 75% capacity.  All students will attend Staples three full days a week while a distance learning option remains available.

As spring nears, 75% of Staples students will return to campus. (Photo/Jennifer Kobetitsch)

The current Staples model is designed to instruct 50% of the student body through an A/B cohort model (i.e. cohort A and cohort B each attend on-site two days a week, Monday/Tuesday for cohort A and Thursday/Friday for cohort B with Wednesday serving as a half remote day).

The 75% capacity model will recategorize students from the current two cohorts (A, B) to four cohorts (A, B, C, D). Each day three of the four cohorts will attend at a time, thus 75%. Wednesday will remain a half remote day.

I will continue to review each change on a 4-6 week basis. If this model is successful and if indicators continue to stabilize, there will be the introduction of the next phase of increasing access to on-site schooling at Staples.

Attendance:  Absent but Present Online (APO)
In my last message I mentioned the challenge facing our teachers as secondary students invoke the “absent but present online” attendance option. In short, the abuse of this provision has been significantly disruptive to the learning environment to all students.

In response, clearer guidelines will be shared by the middle and high school principals for implementation beginning February 22. Choosing to attend class remotely when a student is an “in-person” learner will not be an option unless there is a verified medical reason. More information will be forthcoming. It is critical that parents support our efforts in this regard so that we can continue to successfully implement full in-person learning models.

Travel and Social Gatherings
Travel guidance was sent to parents in a separate message today. Quarantining after travel, or obtaining a negative COVID test, remains in effect.

However, another rule that remains in effect is the cap of 10 people for private social gatherings. We have experienced very few positive COVID cases as a result of travelling. In fact, many can be traced to social gatherings.

No more than 10 people should gather together, according to current guidelines.

As the infection rates drop, and hopefully continues, it is essential that parents, students and all Westport Public Schools staff do their part to avoid social gatherings for the time being. This will go a long way in minimizing opportunities for the virus to enter our schools so that we can continue to remain fully opened at the K-8 level, with increased access at Staples.

Although threats remain, the faint light at the end of the tunnel continues to brighten. Vaccines are coming, days are getting longer (and eventually will get warmer), infection rates continue to drop, and we continue to welcome more students to our schools on a regular basis.

I hope that each of you stay safe and enjoy the February vacation.

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