Six weeks into the school year — as the Westport schools see a continuing drop in COVID cases — superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice offers this update.
Starting tomorrow (Wednesday), the Westport Public Schools will allow teachers in grades 7 to 12 to teach unmasked, provided they are vaccinated, in the front of the room, and students are masked and seated.
The option will be considered for kindergarten through grade 5 after November 1, when there is more information on vaccines for children ages 5-11.
Lunch tents will remain in place for the rest of the month. They will be re-examined at the end of the month, pending a better understanding of K-6 vaccinations.
Scarice notes, “lunch coverage at the elementary levels is very challenging. We will move as quickly as we can to return to ‘normal’ lunch.”
A normal school cafeteria.
Westport schools will continue to require visitors to show proof of vaccination at least through December 31. Larger groups of visitors will be permitted to meet in person with building administration permission, provided there is an opportunity to distance (for example, larger rooms), and that visitors are masked with proof of vaccination.
Elementary parent conferences will be held in person for vaccinated parents, virtual for unvaccinated parents. Virtual accommodations for any parent can be made.
With a number of performances scheduled in the next 2 months, the district and Westport Weston Health District decided to monitor COVID transmission rates to guide mitigating measures. Measures to consider include the amount of capacity allowed, and spacing between attendees.
The district is open for building and space rental by community groups after hours. Universal masking is recommended; however, the district does not have however, the district does not have the capacity to enforce measures outside of school hours.
COVID knocked us to our knees. Westporters lost jobs and businesses. Our kids lost the benefits of in-person school; adults became part-time teachers and full-time counselors. We all lost our sense of security; fearing at times for our lives, we wondered how the world had suddenly gone so askew.
Slowly, we’re emerging from the darkness. COVID is still here, and — particularly among the stubbornly unvaccinated — rampant. We’re learning to live with the pandemic.
But we’re gathering again, in all the places we used to, for work and commerce and pleasure. We’re dining and traveling. We’re welcoming newcomers to town, and their energy makes Westport even more vibrant and wonderful than it was before March of 2020.
Of course, we still have a long way to go. Just ask anyone in the service industry.
The other day, a friend described his recent experiences. He works locally. It doesn’t matter where. His experience is not unique.
He’s exhausted from asking people to wear masks — a mandate that lacks real enforcement power.
He’s tired of asking those with masks to wear them properly. Covering the neck — or even below the nose — will not help stem the virus’ spread.
He’s also tired of trying to change the behavior of the self-centered, pig-headed customers who come into his store. After 18 months, he realizes, they will not listen.
They won’t listen to Dr. Fauci. They won’t listen to the CDC. And they certainly won’t listen to him.
So when I asked him to write an “06880” story about his experiences as a front-line worker, he declined. It’s not worth it, he said.
The ones who are not helping corral the virus have a zillion reasons. “I’m vaccinated.” “I’ll let my immune system work for me.” “It’s my body. Don’t tell me what to do with it.”
The ones who need to read his words won’t, he said. And if they do, they won’t heed them.
They’ll just rage on, berating him and his colleagues. Mocking them. Putting his health in danger, and his nerves on edge.
He has no more strength to tell that story. So I’m telling it instead.
And now — like him in his store — I’ll wait for the abuse.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb’s new book will not be released until tomorrow. But — based on pre-orders — Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic — is already a best-seller.
The book by the former FDA commissioner (and our Westport neighbor) describes how the coronavirus raced through our nation. Gottlieb had a front row seat: he was in regular contact with President Trump, key players in Congress, and the drug industry.
Meanwhile, new dangers lurk around every corner. Gottlieb addresses our preparations for the next virus. Are we ready?
Click here for more information, and to order his book.
Speaking of kids doing good: In August 2020, 10-year-old Suzuki violin students Isabella and Alexander Mariani — with help from their mom, Carole Chinn Mariani — created “Make Music Feed.” The small, socially distanced concert raised money for the Connecticut Food Bank. The young musicians are products of Westport’s Suzuki School of Music.
A year later — with food insecurity still rampant — Isabella and Alexander once again gathered friends. On Saturday, a second concert was held on the Marianis’ front lawn. The beneficiary was Connecticut Foodshare.
Joel Pitkin accompanied his children Mia and Noah Jung-Pitkin, and Grant Zimmerman.
A special guest was Staples High School sophomore Janna Moore. She was Alexander’s “Practice Buddies” partner. The program pairs Staples musicians with 5th grade orchestra students.
Contributions are still being accepted. Click here to help.
Suzuki concert musicians (from left): Alexander Mariani, Noah Jung-Pitkin, Isabella Mariani, Mia Jung-Pitkin, Grant Zimmerman, James McNamara, Julie McNamara and Janna Moore.(Photo: Carole Chinn Mariani)
“Do you know if there’s any enforcement of the mask mandate here in Westport, and if there are any fines for noncompliance?”
(Masks are currently mandated indoors — including town facilities and schools — though there are certain exemptions.)
“It seems that, except for supermarkets and drugstores, a lot of businesses aren’t paying attention to the rule.
Masks are once again mandated indoors in Westport. (“Mask Quilt” by Amy Schneider)
“For example, one of the regular employees at Organic Market never wears a mask, and the boss often wears his under his nose. I love that place, and the people there, but I won’t go in again until the mask mandate is rescinded or COVID is under control.
“Same with the Exxon gas station at 1510 Post Road East. The employees were not wearing masks the last — and I mean last — time I went inside.
“And it’s the same with Hook’d on the Sound. People are in line without masks and employees are behind the counter without masks- even though there’s a sign that says masks are required.
“Employees were wearing masks last time I went down to Joey’s by the Shore, at Elvira’s.”
“Is our only option to avoid those places? Or can something be done?”
It’s a great question. Enforcement of the mask mandate — nationally, throughout the pandemic — has been difficult. The town website page on the subject makes no mentions of consequences, though a link to Governor Lamont’s executive order indicates a fine of $100, and empowers “local health directors, district health directors, and their designees; state and municipal police officers and peace officers” to enforce it. Fines go to the state’s General Fund.
“06880” readers: What do you think?
Should Westport enforce the mask mandate more vigorously? If so, should there be dedicated patrols, or a reliance on citizen complaints? Or is this one of those squishier rules, like picking up dog poop or rolling through stop signs?
Click “Comments” below. And if you’ve had a personal experience involving someone without a mask indoors, please let us know too.
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent this information today to Westport families:
I truly hope that this summer provided you and your family with much needed rest and relaxation. As the first day approaches on August 31 I want to inform families that there will be multiple updates to keep you apprised of our reopening plans. You can expect regular updates from my office, or from your child’s building principal, in the coming days. Additionally, the reopening resource on our newly designed website (more on that next week!) will be fully updated, as the most recent guidance from the state Department of Public Health continues to unfold.
Although the outlook with regards to the pandemic is not as positive as it was in June, we will continue to work towards providing as much normalcy as possible for your child as they return to school. Like last year, we will approach matters in 4-6 week increments, while thoughtfully considering layers of mitigating measures.
We have learned a lot since we opened schools last year. While we have hoped that we would begin the year back to pre-pandemic practices, it is clear that we are not quite there yet. With high vaccination rates in our community, and a prudent approach, we can successfully begin the school year, and in consultation with our medical advisor, and our local and state health departments, we can roll back mitigating measures as the conditions permit.
The following are the most current practices in place for the first day of school:
Universal Masks/Face Coverings:
Masks will be required for all students and staff while in the school building and on the school bus. This continues to be an executive order until September 30, and is consistent with recommendations from both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Mask breaks will continue to be provided optimally when outside or students are spaced greater than 6 feet.
No masks will be required outside for recess or other outside activities.
Fully vaccinated teachers will have the opportunity to remove their masks during active instruction at the front of the classroom per DPH guidance.
Governor Lamont issued Executive Order 13D on August 19, 2021. In short, all Pre-K-12 staff are required to have the Covid-19 vaccine. Any employees eligible for medical or religious waivers will be subject to routine testing.
Social distancing of 3 ft. will be implemented to the extent possible in the classrooms and other settings.
Socially distanced school buses (Photo/Amy Schneider)
Return to pre-pandemic provision of school lunch services.
Additional seating will be made available at all levels (i.e. elementary, middle, high) during lunch in order to allow for extra spacing, including outside seating for students during lunch waves.
Visitors in the buildings will be limited to educational or school business needs. School visits need to be approved by the building administration.
Given the Governor’s mandatory vaccination announcement Thursday, it is possible that visitors will be required to be vaccinated.
After school activities will continue but will follow the spacing and masking guidelines.
Routine and standard cleaning protocols will be in place. Surface transmission has been found to be minimal.
Hand washing will continue to be encouraged throughout the day, and the extra sanitizer will be available throughout the buildings.
Quarantine practices will continue based on the guideline of being within 6 feet for 15 minutes over a 24 hour period to a person who is positive for COVID-19.
Due to limited transmission in classrooms last year, the CDC has made an important exception for students in the classroom setting only. Students in the classroom where everyone is wearing a mask will only be quarantined if they were within 3 ft. of another student positive for COVID-19.
Vaccinated students and staff will not need to quarantine but will be asked to obtain a test within 3-5 days
Quarantine length will be continued as it was at the end of the school year and consist of a PCR or antigen test at day 5 or later and return on day 8 if the test is negative and the person is experiencing no symptoms. If no test is obtained the student or staff member will be able to return on day 10 if they are symptom free.
Students or staff positive for COVID-19 will need to isolate for 10 days from the start of symptoms or the date of the positive test and may return after the 10 days if they are symptom free.
We will continue to recommend CDC guidance for travel both interstate and international.
Ventilation includes HVAC systems that optimize the most air to be taken into the building. Merv 10-13 filters are used.
Supports for Students in Quarantine or Isolation:
Students needing to quarantine or isolate as a result of COVID-19 will receive certain educational supports while in quarantine.
At the elementary level, these supports will consist of access to essential assignments through Google Classroom, twice weekly scheduled contact with the classroom teacher, and twice weekly contact with support staff to assist in work completion.
At the secondary level, this will consist of access to posted assignments and communication with teachers via email as needed and, for quarantine periods extending beyond 5 school days, scheduled time with staff to support students during and after quarantine.
For students who are medically unable to attend school for a verified medical reason, the district will continue to implement its Homebound Instruction Policy 6173. Individuals with questions about this policy or procedure should contact Michael Rizzo, assistant superintendent for pupil services.
These supports will be revisited periodically, likely every 4-6 weeks, to determine if additional interventions are warranted based on the number of students requiring these services.
District COVID-19 Dashboard:
Our on-line COVID-19 dashboard will continue to be updated daily and available on our website.
What Can Families Do?
Obtain a vaccine for all those eligible 12 years of age and older.
Continue to complete a daily home screening to monitor students each morning for any signs of illness and anyone with signs of illness should stay home from school and contact your school nurse.
If a student has had close contact with a person with COVID-19 they should contact their school nurse.
You can anticipate additional updates in the coming days. These are some of the more salient district wide updates. Building principals will send further school-specific messages as we approach the first day of school.
First the bad news: The Kings Highway North project (connecting Main Street and Canal Street) will not be paved until next spring.
Now the good news: It won’t be closed that long.
Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich says his department (and the rest of the country) has run into supply chain issues. As soon as some piping comes in, they’ll finish the water line. The road will reopen then.
The reason final paving must wait until 2022 is to let all the utility work settle.
Paving of the lower portion of Main Street — where utilities are also going in — may wait until spring too. Ratkiewich said it’s possible to do it in November, but he does not want to disrupt prime shopping season.
Bottom line: All roads will be open, hopefully soon. They just won’t be just-paved smooth.
Once upon a time, traffic flowed easily on Kings Highway North. (Photo courtesy of Google Street View)
Longtime Westporter Charlene Zeiberg has organized a great women’s clothing “sip and swap” for next Tuesday (August 3, 6 p.m., Unitarian Church parking lot).
There’s a lot going on. It’s a chance to see old friends and meet new ones while trading — not buying! — clothing and accessories. There are adult beverages and nibbles. And voluntary charitable cash donations to the Domestic Violence Crisis Center of Connecticut will be gratefully accepted. Any leftover items will be donated to charities.
Swapper alert: This is not an unload-your-junk tag sale. It’s for high-end, designer-type goods. Each participant must bring at least 10 items. And it’s ladies apparel only — not men’s or children’s. (Of course, all are welcome to attend.)
The deadline to register is this Friday night. Click here for details.
The 2008 Staples High School graduate has been cast in Fox’s “dance dramedy “The Big Leap.”
The show-within-a-show “takes viewers on a journey of self-acceptance, body-positivity and empowerment at any age.” It’s described as “a modern tale about second chances, chasing your dreams and taking back what’s yours.”
The show revolves around a group of diverse, down-on-their-luck characters attempting to change their lives by participating in a potentially life-ruining reality dance show that builds to a live production of Swan Lake.
Kaplan’s role is Simon Lovewell. He is a talented dancer, has confidence to spare, and is wildly ambitious. He’s “comfortable in his queerness and likes to challenge expectations about gender in both his attitude and appearance.”
“The Big Leap” is in production in Chicago. It premieres on Fox on September 20 (9 p.m.). Click here for more details.
Kaplan recently wrapped a supporting role in “Mr. Russo,” directed by Ray Romano. He also appeared in a lead role in A Bronx Tale on Broadway opposite Chazz Palminteri, directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks.
You can also see the Westport veterinarian Melissa Shapiro live. Next Tuesday (August 3, 7 p.m., Zoom) she’ll discuss her book “Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf, Blind, Pink Puppy and His Family. It’s the story of how fostering the unwanted dog transformed her, her family, and countless admirers.
Piglet (and Melissa) have been featured in People Magazine, and on NBC Nightly News, CNN, CBS News and more. Click here to see our neighbor (virtually). The event is sponsored by the Westport Library; autographed copies of the book are available here.
We are aware that there has been some confusion around the mask wearing protocols since both the guidance and regulations on mask wearing and social distancing have recently changed. According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state or local laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
According to the state Department of Public Health, masks are no longer required outdoors. Those who are vaccinated are not required to wear a mask in indoor settings. However, some businesses, state and local government offices, and certain events and event venues, still require universal masking. Masks will still be required in healthcare facilities, facilities serving vulnerable populations, public and private transit, correctional facilities, schools, and childcare facilities. Those who are not vaccinated must continue to wear masks indoors when unable to maintain a six-foot distance from others.
Some places still require masks. Don’t abandon all of yours just yet. (Photo/Amy Schneider)
Masks continue to be required for all visitors of Town Hall, indoor town facilities and the Westport Library. We also suggest wearing a mask when in crowded conditions — even outdoors.
Business owners and event operators should consider requiring customers to wear a mask when they are inside an establishment or at a large indoor event or private gathering if the space is not designed for continuous social distancing. If not specifically required, these establishments should consider posting signage indicating that unvaccinated customers must wear a mask and any customer is invited to wear a mask if they are more comfortable doing so.
We are encouraged by the results of the vaccine distribution and the dramatic slowing of the spread experienced in the state, and particularly in Westport. This weekend, we are hoping for good weather for at least part of the time and to be able to conduct the parade as planned. In addition to attending the parade, I hope that you will visit downtown on Saturday and Sunday for the Westport Fine Arts Festival, sponsored by the Westport Downtown Association.
I wish you all a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend as we continue to emerge from COVID and begin resuming activities in a manner that we were accustomed to prior to the pandemic.
Yesterday, Governor Ned Lamont signed an executive order enacting updated COVID mask protocols in response to the new recommendations released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These recommendations allow fully vaccinated individuals to forgo the use of a mask either when outdoors or when indoors with other fully vaccinated individuals. According to the governor’s order, a face covering is required when indoors in a public place or when safe social distancing of approximately six feet from every other person is not maintained – specifically for those who are not fully vaccinated. (Click here to read the entire Executive Order #12.)
According to the Westport Weston Health District, “In accordance with CDC and state Department of Public Health guidelines, the use of masks outdoors is no longer required, but recommended if an individual is outdoors in crowded conditions with others of unknown vaccination status and it is not possible to physically distance from others. Businesses, state and local government offices and event organizers may choose to require universal masking when there is uncertainty of the vaccination status of individuals visiting their facility and/or large crowds may be anticipated.” More information from the CT DPH can be found here.
Please note that this guidance does not mean that masks are no longer required or that social distancing is not recommended. Rather, it is a communication to those who are fully vaccinated that they may forgo the use of a mask in certain, if not most, circumstances. Individual businesses and offices may continue to require people to wear a mask in their facilities.
Currently, there is no process in place to recognize the vaccination status of others. Because of that uncertainty, it is recommended that individuals err on the side of caution and assume in certain larger gatherings that there are those who are unvaccinated, and a mask should be worn. Since many institutions will follow this logic, most indoor mask wearing provisions will remain in place until there is a higher degree of certainty of increased vaccination rates.
Effective June 1, town facilities, including the Westport Library, will be expanding capacity with the goal of returning to full in person and pre-COVID access. However, given the uncertainty of vaccination status, masks will continue to be required in all town facilities. The following procedures will be in place:
Town Hall: The building continues to be open to the public. Effective June 1, walk-in services for certain departments will be reintroduced. Visitors may park in the front or the rear of the building and enter through the front entrance or the handicap ramp. Sign-in will continue as visitors enter the building at the reception area. Masks will be required to enter Town Hall.
Appointments: Appointments and remote services continue to be encouraged for the most efficient service. Most appointments will occur in the Town Hall lobby to allow for optimal air circulation and social distancing. For those who prefer to meet outdoors, the exterior tent will be reinstalled.
Town Hall is reopening — slowly. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)
Plan review meetings with the Land Use Departments (Planning & Zoning, Conservation, Building and fire marshal) continue to be encouraged using remote technology, but those requiring in-person meetings that exceed 15 minutes should schedule an appointment during the hours of 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p,m. Monday through Friday in the Town Hall lobby. Plan review with the Building Department and fire marshal will follow the same protocol at Fire Headquarters at 515 Post Road East.
Public Meetings: Some public meetings will begin to return to in-person attendance by both board/commission members and the public. Municipalities are still authorized to host remote public meetings until July. It is expected that additional board, committee and commission in-person meetings will gradually return over this time period. Public meeting announcements will indicate how meetings will be conducted.
Parks & Recreation: The Parks & Recreation Department will reopen its administrative office to the public beginning June 1. Masks must be worn. Please practice social distancing. Remote and online options remain the preferred methods of interacting with the Parks & Recreation Department.
Police Department: The Police Department lobby is fully open, including the records window. Follow signage for safety procedures. Remote and online services remain preferred methods of business interaction.
Reopening Updates: For the latest on reopening updates, please visit here.
Our goal is to make the town’s transition to pre-COVID operations as safe as possible for residents and employees. Your continued patience and cooperation are appreciated.
Certainly, anyone may wear a mask if they prefer to do so. Civil and courteous behavior towards all should continue to be the norm. Some individuals with underlying medical conditions who may be more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19 should consider continued mask wearing. Such conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, diabetes and those immunocompromised. More information on underlying medical conditions can be found at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html1
Posted onMay 4, 2021|Comments Off on Board Of Ed: COVID Easing, Schools Move Forward
There was no significant increase in COVID cases after the April break. Elementary and middle school student assessment performances were not significantly impacted by the coronavirus. Federal grants due to the pandemic may help the Westport Public Schools show a surplus at the end of the year.
Those were 3 takeaways from last night’s Board of Education meeting, Brian Fullenbaum reports.
There are only 6 current COVID cases in the school district, supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur said, with just 17 students in quarantine. Most are at Staples High School.
265 students age 16 and older attended the first vaccine clinic. The 2nd is May 16.
Multiple classes will now be allowed at elementary and middle school recess. Classroom desks can again face each other, allowing for more classroom collaboration.
Assistant superintendent Dr. Anthony Buono reported on the MAP assessment results, given to all K-8 students. Some performances were consistent or better than last year.
In addition to Elio Longo’s 3rd quarter financial report, showing a probable balance at the end of the school year after COVID-related offsets, there was discussion of proposed capital maintenance projects. The cost over 10 years will be around $100 million. Scarice proposed securing outside professional expertise to provide oversight; the board agreed.
Comments Off on Board Of Ed: COVID Easing, Schools Move Forward
As of last Friday, the percentage of Westporters receiving at least the first COVID-19 vaccination dose is:
Age 65+: 93%
Ages 45-64: 83%
Ages 15-44: 50%
These vaccination statistics are encouraging. It is recommended that all residents who have not received the vaccine do so as soon as possible. Click here to find a provider near you, and book an appointment. To register for an appointment via telephone, call 877-918-2224.
Given the success of Connecticut’s vaccine rollout, Governor Lamont recently announced significant easing of COVID restrictions.
Effective May 1, all restaurants will be allowed to remain open until midnight. Beverage-only service outdoors will be permissible, and the 8-person limit on outdoor dining will be lifted.
Effective May 19, all remaining gathering restrictions will be lifted; however, masks will continue to be required in all indoor public settings where social distancing is not possible.
Westport municipal buildings remain open to the public by appointment. Residents are encouraged to continue accessing town services online. Members of the public may also schedule appointments for in-person meetings or other services that require additional assistance.
Residents can make appointments for Town Hall business. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)
Governor Lamont’s declaration for remote public meetings remains in effect through May 20. Town officials are monitoring changes to the declaration, and legislation that might allow in-person “hybrid meetings” (with both in-person and remote participation). In the meantime, public meetings will continue to be conducted via Zoom.
Planning continues for opening or expanding town amenities and activities:
The Senior Center and Toquet Hall are planning for possible outdoor and limited indoor programming in late spring or early summer.
As of May 1, parking emblems will be required on all vehicles to enter Compo and Old Mill Beach parking lots, and on May 29 for Burying Hill Beach. Parking emblem purchases must be made online at www.westportrecreation.com. Daily parking for non-residents will be allowed this summer at Compo Beach and Burying Hill Beach. Visit www.westportrecreation.com for daily parking rates.
The Parks & Recreation Department and Selectman’s Office continue to plan for a Memorial Day parade. July 4th fireworks are still under consideration, pending further guidance from the state.
Bill Vornkahl looks forward to a 2021 Memorial Day parade. (Photo/Carmine Picarello)
The Parks and Recreation Department is preparing to open its facilities, and plans to offer programs not available last summer due to COVID.
Longshore golf course is open for play, as are several tennis locations. The Compo Beach pickleball courts, skatepark facility, platform tennis, Compo basketball courts and playgrounds are open as well.
The Board of Selectmen approved the closure of Church Lane, for expanded outdoor dining.
The Levitt Pavilion is planning its season, to be held in compliance with COVID considerations related to outdoor venues.
Today, Progressive Diagnostics opened a same-day public testing site at the Saugatuck railroad station parking loto adjacent to Exit 17 on Saugatuck Avenue. Services are available weekdays (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Saturdays (8 a.m. to 1 p.m.).
Plans for townwide reopening and a “return to normal” are encouraging, but we should be cautiously optimistic. According to the state Department of Public Health, 122 municipalities out of 169 (including Westport) remain in the highest COVID alert level (red). This is cause for concern, though more recent daily statistics indicate a downward curve in the spread.
It is also important to understand that being vaccinated does not prevent individuals from being COVID positive and transmitting the virus. Ccontinue to remain informed, and balance COVID safety with personal priorities for physical and mental well-being. This includes being empathetic to those around you, and the individual choices they make.
I encourage those who are vaccinated to be respectful of those who are not, or have differing opinions about the current guidelines and status of the pandemic. Westport town officials will continue to follow and employ science experts’ advice and guidance, so that all in our community will be safe and healthy.
Despite rising vaccination rates, masks continue to be important.
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