Tag Archives: Coronavirus

9/11: A Lost Video, Found In A Pandemic

Alert “06880” reader Robin Gusick writes:

The anniversary of 9/11 always takes me back to when I lived in downtown New York, on 14th Street and Avenue A with my husband Dave and our 6-month old baby Sam.

Early that morning, a friend called and said, “you better put on the TV – now.” We watched in horror and disbelief the footage of the first plane hitting.

Sam Gusick with his young parents, Dave and Robin.

We had plans to take Sam to his first baby music class, and wondered whether to go or not. Since we presumed the plane crash to be a terrible accident, we put Sam in his stroller and walked outside.

On the way we saw people huddling around a Radio Shack with multiple TV sets in the windows, all showing the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center. We considered heading home, but figured we might as well go to the class as a distraction.

Ten minutes in, the teacher stopped playing her guitar and said, “I’m sorry, but it just seems wrong to sing when the world is falling apart. I just heard that a second plane hit. This is not an accident — it’s a terrorist attack.”

As we rushed out and hurried home with Sam back in his stroller, we saw massive smoke rising up from further downtown. People watched TVs in windows all along Union Square. They stood silently in shock, watching both towers fall.

Back in our apartment, we put Sam in his “exersaucer” and watched TV — and watched and watched, in horror. We saw smoke from our apartment windows, and smelled the most toxic smell imaginable.

It was particularly surreal to see this innocent 6-month old baby staring at the TV, and wonder what kind of world he would grow up in. We videotaped that moment on our bulky camcorder, knowing one day we would want to show Sam.

Fast forward 18 years to September 11, 2018. Sam is a senior at Staples High School (we moved to Westport when he was 2). I told him a bit of our story of that somber day, mentioning I had a videotape somewhere. He said, “Wow, I’d really like to see that.”

I was glad he was way too young to remember that awful day. I tried to explain to him that when you go through  something like 9/11, you forever see the world through a different lens.

Sam headed off to the University of Vermont the following fall. My first baby quickly found “his people” and his “happy place” in Burlington. He came home for spring break in March. The pandemic hit, and his time in Vermont came to a screeching halt. Sam said, “My generation really has not lived through anything major like this… well, except September 11th. But I have no memory of that.”

Sam Gusick (Photo/Kerry Long)

Sam’s last 2 months of school were at home with no friends, no campus, no Burlington. He was a good sport. He was happy to have Zoom calls, and movie nights with his college buddies. There were silver linings: family dinners that never fit into his busy Staples Players and Orphenians schedule, and decluttering and simplifying our home.

During one of those long pandemic days in March, sorting through mountains of old papers while watching “Tiger King” with Sam, I felt a small item mixed in with the papers: a videotape labeled “Sam — September 11th.” It was a pandemic miracle!

However, the miracle was trapped in what seemed like caveman technology. Plus every business was shutting down. I left that tape on my night table, though.  It took until today — September 11, 2020 — for me to research how to transfer that camcorder video to a watchable format.

And so, my 9/11 “gift” to Sam (who is back at UVM now) is this video, along with a message: Life can change in an instant.

It did on 9/11/01, and it did this past March. Keep being the resilient, positive man you have grown to be. Keep smiling like you did in that exersaucer on that very, very sad day.

Even if it’s under your mask. Click below for the 9/11 video.

Scarice Adds Info Re Coleytown El Closure

Yesterday afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice updated Westport families on the COVID-related closure of Coleytown Elementary School. He wrote:

Early this morning, the administration was informed by a staff member who self-reported that they had received notification overnight of a positive test. Given the tight timeline and that students and staff were to arrive within hours, I made the decision to close CES and Stepping Stones Preschool in order to implement our tracing protocols in conjunction with the Westport Weston Health District and our medical advisor. This is a 1-day closure, and both schools will reopen Monday.

The need to determine risk prior to receiving students was the primary reason for this decision. Additionally, the closure has enabled our facilities staff to perform a thorough cleaning of the school. The health and safety of our students and staff will continue to be our highest priority.

In working closely with the Westport Weston Health District and our medical advisor, it has been confirmed that the staff and students have implemented our mitigating measures by maintaining distance to the maximum extent possible, and by wearing masks. However, the Connecticut State Department of Education /Department of Public Health guidance indicates that decisions for exclusion from school and quarantine will be based on the individual circumstances of each case, including those who have spent a significant amount of time (i.e. more than 15 minutes) in the presence of a positive case, regardless of mask wearing.

Coleytown Elementary School. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

In this case it was determined that the students and staff in two CES classrooms spent a significant amount of time in the presence of a positive case. As a result, these individuals will be excluded from school community and have been recommended to quarantine for 14 days from the date of contact, September 10. To be clear, siblings and other family members of these children and staff do not need to quarantine.

I am quite certain that, for very good reasons, many in the school community prefer specific information about the individuals involved in this matter.  However, the school district administration is required to comply with all applicable laws and regulations regarding student and employee confidentiality and privacy.

The Americans with Disabilities Act precludes sharing the identity of an individual, with the exception of sharing the individual’s identity with a public health agency (e.g., Westport Weston Health District). In addition, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevents the school district from publicly sharing personally identifiable information derived from student education records.

In light of these confidentiality and privacy protections and our related legal obligations, as well as the need to protect the health and safety of the school community, we will continue to adhere to the appropriate means of notifying the school community of possible exposure to COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis.  Judgement will be used and each case might look a little different from another.

Some unintended consequences resulted in this matter as well. For example, the distance-learning teachers located at CES were not able to access their materials this morning, and as a result, those classes needed to be cancelled. The distance-learning specials were impacted similarly, yet this was not communicated to parents and I apologize for any inconvenience. We have reviewed this process so that we can maintain continuity to the maximum extent possible the next time we experience a closure or interruption of education.

I intentionally state, “the next time” since I want to reiterate that we are educating our students in the midst of a global pandemic. I expect that we will continue to confront circumstances like this throughout the duration of the pandemic. We will get better in our response each time. We will learn lessons from each event and we will continue to educate and develop our children to the very best of our ability.

Finally, we will continue to count on each other as we continue to rise up and endure this challenge.

COVID Caution Closes Coleytown El, Stepping Stones

Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice sent this notice today to all Coleytown Elementary School families and staff:

The administration learned early this morning that a staff member has tested positive for COVID-19. Given the timing of the notice and our need to follow district protocols with contact tracing, as a precautionary measure, Coleytown Elementary School will be closed today, Friday, September 11, 2020, to students and staff. This closure includes the staff and students of Stepping Stones preschool.

[Principal Jenna] Sirowich and the administrative team will be working closely with the central office administrators, the Westport Weston Health District and our medical advisor to assess the impact of this positive COVID-19 test and begin contact tracing.  We will provide an update to the CES and preschool community later today.

In the interim, our custodial staff will be conducting a thorough cleaning of the building to ensure it is ready for reopening.

We regret needing to take this action and for the late notice but feel it is the most prudent decision so that we can implement the necessary tracing measures.  The health and safety of students and staff are our primary concern.

This was the scene Tuesday morning, at Coleytown Elementary School.(Photo/Stephanie Mastocciolo)

Schools Superintendent: Let’s Join Together For All Our Kids

On the day before the start of a new school year — one unlike any other — superintendent of schools Tom Scarice sent a message to Westport families. It too is unlike any back-to-school note sent before. He wrote:

I am certain that you have received countless messages from teachers, principals and others in the school system as we approach the first day of school tomorrow. I will do my best to keep this brief so that you could enjoy the last day of summer vacation, along with this gorgeous weather.

Enclosed in this message are necessary notifications for parents and guardians in order to start the school year. Please review at your earliest convenience.

Most importantly, I would like to welcome each of you  to the start of the 2020-2021 school year. This will be a unique year, and one that will require the abilities to communicate effectively, to adapt regularly, and to support each other as we navigate the realities of educating our students during a global pandemic.

Tom Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

Last April, during the initial COVID worldwide spread, Dimo’s Pizza in Chicago reinvented itself. Dimo’s owner Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau felt driven to respond to the pandemic. Realizing that his restaurant regularly makes things very quickly, in large quantities, and very cleanly, Syrkin-Nikolau recast the use of his pizza ovens to heat and shape acrylic face shields. Concurrently, Dimo’s continued to make pizzas, some for takeout and others donated to local hospitals.

Success stories such as this one have been reported all over private industry and the non-profit sector. Reinventing, i.e. transforming a process or recasting for a new use, is a bit more complex when considering teaching and learning. I am a purist in a sense in that I believe in the power of the interpersonal dynamic between the teacher and the student, live and in-person. Technology has augmented facets of education, yet it still has not, and some regards, I do not believe it ever will, replace the incalculable experience of the classroom.

Yet, for this school year, hundreds of Westport teachers and support staff are faced with this challenge.

Last Thursday I had the chance to formally address each and every employee of the Westport Public Schools, albeit, remotely. I shared my thoughts on how the highest performing systems, (i.e. teams, private industry, etc.) can “count” on each other for the greater good of the mission. I made specific promises of support to the team.

In my numerous conversations with teachers and support staff over the past few weeks, it is clear to me that within the midst of uncertainty and anxiety, there is a strong desire to do this right, to meet the needs of each and every student in a way never done before.

We are not, and will not be, perfect. We are a system comprised of people with all of the strengths, potential, and shortcomings that we bring collectively to our schools, present company included. However, like Dimo’s pizza, we are poised to rise up and reinvent, if only for this time period, while we continue to confront this pandemic. Our kids are counting on us.

Although I am not well-known to the community at this point, I am confident that you will all come to see me as an educational leader who is by nature, optimistic. I do not believe that optimism is the denial of current reality, but the belief that all things continually improve, that this too will get better.

Until that time, I ask that you join me in supporting our educators as they embark down a path of reinventing, even if for only this year, in order to meet the needs of our children. I ask that you offer your patience, your generosity, and your kindness.

In turn, on behalf of the Westport Public Schools team, I offer you the promise that we will do our very best to serve your child, to benchmark our progress and seek to continually improve, and to provide your child with not only an excellent education, but a nurturing place to grow and develop during this time.

As summer closes and we approach our first school day, I ask all in the school community, to rise up and join together to deliver for our children.

Most sincerely,
Tom Scarice

It’s The Law: New Firm Focuses On COVID Employment Questions

Employment law was hot before COVID-19. Now that corner of the legal world sizzles.

If an employee does not want to (or cannot) return to the workplace — because of high risk for the coronavirus, say, or the need to care for a young child who is doing fully remote learning — can he or she be fired?

How enforceable is a waiver acknowledging workplace risks during the pandemic? What about non-compete clauses, at a time when it is so difficult to find any work at all?

You — business owners, workers, everyone — have questions. Saluck, Halper & Lehrman have answers.

Jill Saluck

The new law firm was launched recently by 3 Westport and Weston women. They represent businesses and employees in all areas of employment law. But as a historic pandemic rages, they spend most of their time on COVID-related cases.

It’s not easy. The issues — and laws, and precedents — change daily. But Jill Saluck, Jill Halper and Randi Lehrman are the right attorneys, at the right time.

None grew up around here. They all moved to Westport with their husbands and children, and became friends. They paused their legal careers, to raise families. As their kids grew, they decided to rejoin the workforce.

And to represent it.

“Employment law has been extremely relevant the past few years, because of the focus on #MeToo and sexual harassment,” says Halper. (If her name sounds familiar, it’s because her husband is 1979 Staples High School graduate David Halper. His mother, artist Roe Halper, still works and teaches in the same house where she raised David.)

Jill Halper

Now it’s even more far-reaching. The coronavirus impacts nearly every aspect of employment law: disability rights, family medical leave, OSHA and workplace safety, unemployment, discrimination based on age and pregnancy, and much more.

“This is far more complex than anything I’ve dealt with before,” Halper says.

For example, the firm — with offices in Westport and White Plains — has worked with a private school, as it prepared to reopen. Among the questions: Are teachers “essential workers”? Which safeguards are absolutely necessary, and which are merely important? How do sick leave policies work during a pandemic?

“This is all uncharted territory,” Halper says. “It’s new for employers, for employees, and for all of us. And the federal and state mandates change every day.”

In early spring, most of the questions she and her colleagues fielded involved unemployment: qualifications for benefits, denials of appeal — that sort of thing. Employers and employees wondered about furloughs — a term many had never heard.

Randi Lehrman

These days, Halper says, the focus has shifted to reopening, and the return to work.

There are contract law questions too. For instance: If a construction project or consulting contract can’t be completed because of COVID, is a “force majeure” clause in place? If so, does a pandemic qualify as an “unforeseen circumstance”?

Each of the 3 brings a different strength to SHL. Lehrman is an excellent litigator. Saluck is a strong writer and researcher. Halper calls herself “a good negotiator.”

Though the partners are all women — in a field where law firms often seem dominated by men — they downplay their gender.

“We are just 3 people doing something entrepreneurial,” Halper says. Still, she admits, “it’s good to be role models for our daughters. And sons.”

School Days: Scarice Recommends Hybrid Model

With less than a month to go before the school year begins, the look of that year is becoming clear.

Last night, in a Zoom meeting with the Board of Education, superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice recommended a hybrid model. It’s different at each level, but consistent in one way: All students — at least, all who do not choose full-time remote learning — would spend half their time in school, half at home.

Staples High School would have 2 cohorts, based alphabetically on last name (A-K, L-Z).

One cohort would be in school Monday and Tuesday; the other, Thursday and Friday. There would be 4 classes a day; each class is 80 minutes long. When students are not in school, they’d be online.

On Wednesday, all students would learn remotely. The highly touted Connections group meetings would be held that day too.

The final 30 minutes of each day are set aside for teachers to support and connect with remote learners.

Staples high School

The middle school model divides students into cohorts too — both alphabetical, and based on their “home school” (Bedford or Coleytown). One group would in school Monday and Thursday, online Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. The other group is in school Tuesday and Friday, online Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

All middle school students would be online Wednesday, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. On that day, teachers will have professional responsibility time from 12:30 to 3:15.

Bedford Middle School (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

The elementary school model was developed thanks to “herculean, unparalleled work” by professionals at all 5 schools, Scarice said.

The elementary model — which emphasizes literacy and math for live instruction — splits youngsters into morning and afternoon groups. There would be live “online specials” when students are home; phys. ed., art, music and Spanish are taught once a week. Small group instrumental lessons and ensembles would be taught virtually. Students would eat at home.

Stepping Stones Preschool would be “business as close to usual” as possible. The class size is 9 to less than 14, meeting state guidelines.

Long Lots Elementary School

Scarice pulled no punches in his introductory remarks. “This is not a 100% data-driven decision. Nor should it be,” he said.

Noting “we are a community and nation enveloped in fear and uncertainty,” he acknowledged that any decision would impact “students, families, teachers, staff members and the entire community. We will not be able to answer every question. This is something we’ve never done before.

“There will be a perception of winners and losers,” he acknowledged. “We must remember: Our purpose is to serve students.”

Although there is a national debate over the role and conduct of education and educators, the superintendent said, “This is a moment for our profession to shine. I am fully confident we will do this very, very well.”

The Board also heard a proposal to move the first day for students back a week, from September 1 to September 8. Those extra days are needed for staff training.

The Board of Education will vote on the hybrid models, and the calendar change, at their next meeting, on Monday.

Superintendent of schools Tom Scarice, during last night’s Zoom meeting.

Board Of Ed Nears School Reopening Decision

Everyone wonders: What will the new school year look like?

Westport’s Board of Education continued discussion last night on what chair Candice Savin calls “the challenge of a lifetime for every educator.”

Educators are “reinventing every minute of the school day, and how everything gets done,” she adds.

Meeting via Zoom last night, the board examined  the 3 plans required by the state of Connecticut: full time, hybrid and distance learning. Each plan has 3 components: high school, middle school and elementary school.

Administrators at all levels have worked with district office personnel to devise new schedules for in-school and remote learning, along with protocols for testing, safety, lunch, transportation, visitors — and everything else that goes into a school day these days.

The path is still unclear to Staples — and Westport’s 7 other schools. (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

Superintendent of schools Tom Scarise expects to have final plans by August 15. That’s around the time parents will be asked if they intend to keep their children home no matter which plan is in place. Parents will also be asked if their school-bound youngsters will take a bus, or be driven.

The Board of Ed meets again next Monday. In the meantime they’ll refine each plan, with an eye toward district-wide continuity.

The board is also working with the Westport Weston Health District on measurement metrics — and figuring out what to do if students or staff test positive.

They’re also examining ventilation in all schools.

Reopening schools in a pandemic is a herculean task. It’s also one whose parameters change almost daily. Of course, any plan that’s selected may be refined, altered or scrapped completely once school actually begins.

Or Governor Lamont could intervene and make a decision for all schools.

Or the number of COVID cases could suddenly go south, forcing a complete re-evaluation of everything.

All of which makes last year’s big debate — remember school start time? — look like small potatoes.

For Staples Grads, Choosing A College Was Easy. Now The Tough Choices Begin.

When first-year students head to Dartmouth College in September, they’ll make history.

Everyone will have their own room, or live in a 2-bedroom double. After being tested for COVID-19, those who are negative will quarantine in their rooms for 14 days. All meals will be delivered.

Anyone violating the strict coronavirus protocols — including being in another student’s room — must leave campus within 24 hours. That won’t be difficult: Students have been told to bring “only those items they can take with them if required to leave on short notice.”

None of that bothers Sam Laskin. The recent Staples High School graduate is excited to attend the school that accepted him early decision last December.

Sam Laskin

Sam — who served as Staples Players president — was attracted to Dartmouth by its focus on undergraduate education, strong government program and great extracurriculars.

Classes — most of them conducted remotely — will be far different this fall. Many clubs will not meet in person. Even Dartmouth’s vaunted first-year orientation program — featuring camping and hiking trips — has been canceled.

After the pandemic slammed into Staples — knocking out, along with everything else, Players’ spring production of “Seussical” just hours before opening night — Sam kept busy.

He worked with Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long on a virtual show. He MC-ed the Class of 2020’s graduation video.

And he waited to hear Dartmouth’s plan. When it was announced that his class (and juniors) had “priority” for this fall — though members of those classes could opt to study entirely remotely, or take a gap year — he decided to head to Hanover.

“I had a great 4 years at Staples. But I’m ready to move on,” Sam explains. “I want to be in an environment where everyone is learning.

“I want to meet people in real life, not on social media. A huge reason I chose Dartmouth is the community. Some traditions will be gone this year, but the school is committed to bringing us into the Dartmouth community. I want to be there for it.”

Most of Sam’s friends will attend their schools this fall. He cannot think of any who will take a gap year because of the virus.

This is a “harrowing time,” Sam admits. Yet he has faith that his classmates — those from Staples, and soon at Dartmouth — will emerge from it with strength of character, and a desire to do good things in the world.

“Life goes on,” he says. “We adapt and adjust.”

Like Sam, recent Staples graduate Patricio Perez Elorza has been accepted by an Ivy League school.

But he will not be there this fall.

Patricio Perez Elorza

COVID struck while Patricio was still weighing his school choices. He chose Yale University because of its excellent academic reputation, including pre-law program; its proximity to New York City, where he hopes to work; the “vibrant” city of New Haven, and the school spirit.

He was also impressed by “Bulldog Days”: a series of Zoom videos and conferences throughout April.

But when he was given the option of enrolling for the fall semester or deferring admission, Patricio chose the latter.

“A lot of the college experience is meeting new people, going to class and interacting with professors,” he says.

“With almost every class online, you miss all that. I like learning in person.”

He also would miss participating in a business club and club soccer, neither of which would occur this fall.

And — because only sophomores, juniors and seniors will be on campus next spring — he decided to wait until next fall.

He’s already got a gap year job: launching and managing an app to help the O Living construction firm with its projects. He’ll take a course to learn Excel, and stay involved with both the Staples soccer program and his St. Luke Church youth group.

In the spring, when restrictions may ease, he hopes to travel.

Of Patricio’s friends, one will attend Yale this fall. Some are going to college; others will stay home, studying online. A few are taking gap years.

Their moods vary, he says. “The ones who are going to school are optimistic. They hope for the best. The others are doing gap years because they think college won’t be what they expected.”

The high school Class of 2020 has been through a lot. As they begin their next journey, the college Class of 2024 faces much more uncharted territory.

Tyler Hicks Tracks The Amazonian Pandemic

COVID-19 is everywhere.

After the US, Brazil has the highest COVID death toll in the world. People are as likely to fall ill in Amazon River villages as in New York City.

Tyler Hicks — the 1988 Staples High School graduate who has earned international renown (and multiple Pulitzer Prize winner) for his New York Times photojournalism — traveled from his home in Nigeria to the Amazon Basin.

His images illustrate an important story, published online today. Along with powerful text and graphics, the piece demonstrates the global reach of the pandemic.

(Photo/Tyler Hicks for The New York Times)

(Photo/Tyler Hicks for The New York Times)

Click on or hover over the photos to enlarge them. Click here for the full story, and all photos.

(Photo/Tyler Hicks for The New York Times)

Roundup: David Pogue; Lynsey Addario; Ospreys; Lending Library; More


David Pogue is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. Unlike most chocolate boxes though, with the Westport tech guru/writer/TV star/jack of all trades, there’s never anything you don’t like.

Yesterday, as part of his regular “CBS Sunday Morning” gig, Pogue poked behind the production of the world’s largest virtual choir.

How do 17,000-plus voices come together in perfect harmony? Click below.

Oh, yeah: Pogue himself was one of the performers. Were there any other Westport connections? If so, click “Comments” below.


Yesterday’s New York Times story on the Rio Grande Valley — where poverty and chronic illness compound the coronavirus — was sad and compelling.

It was made more powerful by the images that accompanied it. They were shot by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist (and 1991 Staples High School graduate) Lynsey Addario. As always, her images show far more than what is in the frame. Click here for the full Times story. (Hat tip: Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

Nurses surround a coronavirus patient moments after her death. (Photo/Lynsey Addario for the New York Times)


The Fresh Market ospreys continue to fascinate Westporters. Intrepid raptor-watcher Carolyn Doan reports that the 2 fledglings have fledged. Here’s one:

(Photo/Carolyn Doan)


The Westport Library has reopened, with limited service. There’s an alternative, at 95 Kings Highway South.

Sure, the selection is limited. But you don’t have to worry about masks or crowds.


And finally … on this date in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk walk on the moon. Ten others have followed. The last 2 — Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt — made the journey in 1972.