Last night, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent this message to the community:
Safety and Security: It is troubling to consider that the only period of time void of school shootings occurred during the remote learning and full quarantine in the spring of 2020. Again yesterday, another unspeakable act of school violence took the lives of 4 innocent children in Michigan. In Connecticut, there were reports of a prop gun in one high school, a stabbing just outside another high school, and a bomb threat in a neighboring district. These events are an unfortunate and heartbreaking reminder of the world our children are growing up in.
In Westport, our vigilance in keeping our students safe is resolute, and does not ebb and flow based on such tragedies. We are fortunate to have a strong partnership with our local police department, including regular patrols of a dedicated officer on our campuses, in addition to a full time School Resource Office at our high school.
Additionally, each school is staffed with full-time security personnel, and equipped with cameras and communication systems. Furthermore, our administrative team conducts regular drills to keep our faculty, staff and students fluent in procedures to maintain safety in the event of an emergency.
Finally, our increased focus on proactive measures to build community, while addressing emotional and mental wellness, serves to meet the needs of all of our students in providing interventions to those in distress. However, we count on our families to partner with us in open two way communication as no one knows your child better than you. Together, we can work to celebrate our students in the best of times, and support them in the most challenging of times.
COVID Update: Less than one month ago I shared with our families that COVID infection rates had hovered at levels we had not seen since May. In those few short weeks we have seen an increase in infections in the region, and the warning of the Omicron variant. There is much to learn about how this variant might, or might not, impact our community. his is precisely why approaching the school year in 4-6 week increments is important.
Fortunately, hundreds of 5-11-year-olds have been vaccinated in town, or are receiving their second shot, in addition to the high rate of vaccination among our staff, secondary students, and the community at large.
K-6 Weekly Serial Testing: With these developments, we will continue to administer our K-6 weekly voluntary serial testing program through the end of the calendar year at a minimum. Given transmission rates at that time, we will reassess the program and make considerations for the new year.
Lunch and Dismissal: Students have returned to the cafeteria for lunch with some schools making modest exceptions based on sizes of individual grade levels. We continue to distance to the maximum extent possible. Additionally, each school, particularly at the elementary level, revised dismissal procedures to determine the most efficient way to release students to parents who are not taking the bus. Each school has a slightly different dismissal procedure based on a variety of factors (i.e. driveway capacity, traffic flow, etc.).
Vaccination Requirement for School Visitors: Since the beginning of the school year we have required proof of vaccination for school visitors. Additionally, the governor used his executive powers to mandate vaccination for all employees with the provision of legal exemptions. We will continue to require vaccination for school visitors but we will employ the same approach for unvaccinated visitors as we do for unvaccinated employees. Effective immediately, we will require evidence of a negative COVID test within 72 hours prior to visiting our schools for unvaccinated visiting parents and caregivers.
School Performances and Concerts: It is the time of year for school concerts and performances. When rates plummeted last month we were able to welcome audiences with 100% capacity. With the recent increase in infection rates, the Westport/Weston Health District and our medical advisor, Dr. Norman Wienberger, have both asked that we limit audiences to accommodate appropriate distancing between family units. Some schools might use alternative venues to accommodate all parents. Your child’s school principal will provide additional information on this topic.
We continue to recommend and expect all visitors will be vaccinated or test negative for COVID within 72 hours of attending a school concert or performance. Although we do not have the resources to check individuals upon entry after hours, it is an expectation and I am confident that our families will honorably respect this requirement.
Universal Masking: The Governor’s universal masking mandate for schools remains in effect through February 15. It is possible, based on vaccination and infection rates, that the Governor will revisit this provision after the New Year. In the interim, we will maintain universal masking.
Modified Quarantine Procedures “Screen and Stay”: =We have successfully implemented the new quarantine procedures, “Screen and Stay” in the past month for students identified as close contacts. Vaccinated students and staff are not required to quarantine.
We will continue to monitor conditions as we flexibly employ mitigating measures in response to the pandemic. While rates have increased recently, I want to assure our families that throughout the entire pandemic, like most school districts, we have experienced little to no virus spread in our schools.