Tag Archives: Superintendent of School Thomas Scarice

Scarice: “We All Hurt. But We Will Be Ready.”

Last night, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice said:

I am so sorry to send this message this evening. I just wish I had something magical to say that would console and comfort the heartache so many in our community feel in the aftermath of the massacre of young children in a Texas elementary school today.

But I do not. There is nothing I can say to ease that heartache. I can only feel that pain along with you. I have struggled since 6 p.m. this evening, trying to conjure up words of comfort. But for now, along with you, I just hurt.

However, I want to assure each member of our community that when the bell rings in the morning, we will be ready to receive our students, your children, with the care and responsibility that professional educators embody. Our team will be ready. Many of us will give an extra long hug to our own children this evening, even the teenagers, and again in the morning before we leave. But we will be ready.

This evening our director of psychological services, Dr. Valerie Babich, has mobilized, along with her team and the entire district administrative team, to provide guidance for each of our levels: elementary, middle and high school. I want to assure parents of young children that discussion of this topic will not be initiated at the elementary level. However, we are working at this moment to organize and provide guidance and resources so our faculty are ready in the morning.

Principals are working right now to plan how to disseminate information to teachers so that they are prepared to handle this in their classrooms. In the era of social media and young children with access to smartphones, we cannot be assured of protecting them from exposure to this horror. As a result, we are doing our best to equip our teachers to acknowledge their feelings, reassure them of their safety by reviewing all of the measures in place to keep our schools safe, while not talking about the unspeakable tragedy in our elementary schools.

Many children from all levels will question why this happened. There is no good answer to that question, and we will not try to answer it. But again, we will acknowledge feelings and reassure students of their safety at school by emphasizing the many measures we take to ensure safety.

Dr. Babich and her team will work this evening with the administration at our middle and high schools to plan an appropriate response and provide guidance to faculty and staff. In addition, by the end of the day tomorrow we will send out resources to families that guide parents through discussions on this topic with their children.

Finally, I have been in touch with our chief of police, Foti Koskinas. I have requested a police presence at all of our schools tomorrow, which he immediately honored. Our schools are not at risk, yet this collaboration and support with our local police department is reassuring for many in our community. We will continue to partner with our police department to maintain the highest of safety standards in our drills and protocols.

We will do our best tomorrow. We will be professionals and rise up to support our students. We all hurt right now, but when the bell rings in the morning, we will be ready.

[UPDATE] Scarice Adds Details On “Suspicious Person”

Following up on the Westport Police Department’s information about this morning’s “sheter in place” order at Staples High and Bedford Middle Schools, superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice says:

Earlier this morning a student who missed their bus walked to the Dattco bus yard and requested a ride to Bedford Middle School. Personnel at the bus yard mobilized to provide transportation for this student.

Some time thereafter, personnel at the Dattco bus yard contacted the school district’s transportation coordinator to inform the coordinator about their plan to transport the student, but unfortunately provided incomplete and inaccurate information regarding the student’s identity and school.  Our transportation coordinator immediately contacted the BMS and central office administration.

The administration then swiftly contacted our Westport Police Department School Security Officer (SSO) and School Resource Officer (SRO), and the Staples administration.  After investigating to determine the identity and location of the student through video surveillance, our SRO discovered that the student was dropped off at Bedford Middle School, but then left the bus and walked towards Staples High School.

As a precaution, our SSO and SRO then sought additional resources from the Westport Police Department.  Both schools were placed in a shelter-in-place.

Through collaboration with the school and district administration, the student was then correctly identified, interviewed, and it was determined that the shelter-in-place could be lifted.

The administration is committed to identifying the breakdown of the Dattco bus yard communication and protocols in this incident.

Again, I have complete confidence that at no time were our students and staff in danger. Additionally, it is clear that the positive and collaborative relationship we enjoy with the Westport Police Department, and the swift actions of our Bedford and Staples administration, along with our transportation coordinator and central office administration, all contributed to the timely resolution of this matter.

Roundup: Real Estate, Food, Trees …

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The 1st quarter of 2022 is in the books. That means it’s time for some real estate stats.

Westport had 86 house closings, a 25% decrease from a year ago but
still the 2nd-most number of closings for this period since 2006.

The average house closing price of $2.2 million was the highest for the quarter in the past 2 decades. The average closed price per square foot rose to $509, up 23% from a year ago.

Reflecting high demand and low inventory, houses in the quarter sold on average for 102% of the list price — the 4th  straight quarter that average has been over 100%

Eight-five Westport houses were pending (properties with signed contracts) on March 31. That’s down slightly from the end of March 2021, but still high by historical measure.  (Hat tip: Rose Marie Colletti, Brown Harris Stevens)

This Bluewater Hill home is on the market for $12 million.

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Two years ago, Westport Farmers’ Market started its #Who Grows Your Food” campaign. The goal was to expand people’s knowledge of what farmers look like, to gain more support foro local agriculture.

Anne Burmeister and Ashley Skatoff offered to help. They lent their photographer lenses and creativity, capturing the essence of the farmers while creating an intimate story that eaters could follow along with.

Last fall, the Farmers’ Market partnered with MoCA Westport. Dozens of Burmeister and Skatoff’s stunning photographs became part of an art exhibit called “Between the Ground and the Sky.”

Now, those 52 photos from over 15 farms are available for purchase.

Each 18″ x 27″ original print (23″ x 32″ with border) is $500. All are signed and dated by the artist. The print includes information about the farm and photo, plus text created by the artist for the display at MoCA. The certificate is signed by the farmer.

All proceeds support WFM programming. Purchased photos may be picked up at the first 3 markets of the season: May 12, 19 and May 26.

For more information and to purchase, click here.

“Chicken Tractors” by Anne Burmeister is one of 52 Farmers’ Market photos available for sale.

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Arbor Day is near — and the Westport Tree Board is ready. Among the events throughout the month:

Saturday, April 23 (10:30 a.m. to noon, Jesup Green, free): The Tree Board and Westport Book Shop celebrate Earth Day with a fun event to promote reading for all ages, with attention also on the value of trees. Interactive family-friendly activities involving reading and early learning; educational materials and a native tree sapling giveaway, courtesy of Bartlett Tree Company.

Friday April 29 (Arbor Day, 3 to 4 p.m., Town Hall, free):  The Tree Board hosts their annual native sapling giveaway, plus brochures and advice from professional associations on tree-related topics, from site selection to proper maintenance.  Native saplings for giveaway are donated by Bartlett Tree.

Saturday, April 30 (3 to 4 p.m., Earthplace): The Tree Board hosts a live discussion and free information session with a tree professional on the basics of tree planting and maintenance, including selection, mulching, pruning, pest management and more. Native tree saplings, courtesy of Bartlett, will be available while they last.

As part of Arbor Day, Earthplace also hosts a “Toast To The Trees” family event 4 to 6 p.m.), with kids’ activities and s’mores, handmade pizza, beverages for adults and kids, plus a “tree walk” tour.  Click here to purchase tickets.

Beginning mid-April, the Tree Board and Westport Library will create a “StoryWalk” at the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum (2 Woodside Lane).  The featured book is “Be a Tree!” For more information, click here.

A Norway maple at the Wadsworth Arboretum.

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Superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice offered a video update yesterday. He covered 4 areas:

The 5-year capital forecast to bring all schools — especially Long Lots and Coleytown Elementary — up to the district’s standards.

The uptick in the COVID Omicron sub-variant.

The Westport Public Schools’ ongoing equity study.

Ukrainian refugees. Scarice notes that Westport has already welcomed some to town, and any student settling here will be accommodated — as will all refugees from anywhere who come to Westport. He asks anyone with any information on refugees in Westport to call his office: 203-341-1025.

Click here to view the video update.

A screenshot of Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice, giving a video update from his office.

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Speaking of Westport Public Schools: Horace Lewis was the beloved head custodian at Staples High School, and served the district for 3 decades. He suffered a stroke shortly after retiring last summer, and died in December.

Classrooms, hallways, teaching kitchens, storage areas, auditorium, gym, fieldhouse, cafeteria, library, TV studio, boilers and HVAC systems — Horace kept them all sparkling and working. Despite a stressful job, staff and students knew Horace as the walkie-talkie carrying, most cheerful custodian.

Over the years, countless students (and parents) enlisted Horace’s help after leaving coats, backpacks, sporting equipment and phones at school. Even after his official retirement, Horace stayed on to help the schools cope with COVID cleaning requirements.

To honor Horace’s legacy of hard work, service to others and positive outlook, Staples Tuition Grants has created a scholarship in his name. The first need-based award will be offered this year. Click here to donate to this special fund.

Horace Lewis

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Among the most impressive parts of Westport Country Playhouse’s production of “Next to Normal”: the set.

Like everything that appears on the Playhouse stage, it was constructed by the in-house production staff — with help from  Jake Krasniewicz, assistant box office manager.

But that’s not his only side gig.

The Stratford native plays bass, ukulele, guitar, banjo and synthesizer. At Berklee College of Music he studied film scoring.

After graduating, Jake spent time in Boston’s music scene. When he returned to Connecticut, he formed Drop Party. The band plays an amalgam of genres, and call their style “a way to access emotions without sounding like radio music.”

Drop Party is part of this weekend’s Westport Library VersoFest. On Sunday (April 10, 7 p.m.), they open for Selwyn Birchwood.

What does all this have to do with building the set?  After college, Jake helped out at his father’s welding shop. The Playhouse technical director recruited the assistant box office manager to help with the extensive welding needed for the “Next to Normal” set.

He particularly enjoys funk. But it seems “heavy metal” is also one of Jake’s outlets. (Hat Tip: Bruce Miller)

Jake Krasniewicz takes a break from ticket sales and music,, to help create the “Next to Normal” set.

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There’s always something going on Westport — and much of it flies under the radar. And I do mean “radar.”

Last Saturday, over 100 automotive enthusiasts and industry leaders filled
the Autostrada facility — formerly the Steinway piano showroom — to kick off the Piston Foundation’s 2022 season.

Attendees came from across the US and Europe. They heard the non-profit
foundation lay out its mission to “bring more young people into the collector car industry so the craftspeople who built this American touchstone can transfer their skills to a new generation.”

The site included a “collection of exotic automobiles.” A silent auction raised funds for students and apprentices to pursue careers in automotive craft, restoration specialties and service.

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Staples High School seniors Sophie Alcyone and Alexandra Maskoff were honored this week, at the 27th annual High School Arts Awards ceremony.

Selected by the Staples staff, Sophie was recognized for visual art, Maskoff for music. The event was sponsored by the Connecticut Association of Schools.

From left: Sophie Alcyone and Alexandra Maskoff.

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With spring arriving fitfully, Jonathan Alloy offers 2 “Westport … Naturally” photo.

He writes: “My wife Sarah hung a pretty seasonal wreath on our front door, which real birds used to build a real nest — now complete with real eggs! Robins perhaps?”

Here’s the wreath:

And the eggs:

(Photos/Jonathan Alloy)

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And finally … the Westport Library’s VersoFest (see story above) and Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz present an intriguing concert tonight (7 p.m.). Headliners are Enid Ze and Daniprobably. Click below for a sneak listen; click here for ticket information, and more.

 

 

Scarice Explains Mask Mandate Elimination

At last night’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice recommended an elimination of the mask mandate for all students and staff effective February 28, the day the winter break ends.

In a community message today, he elaborated on his rationale:

The elimination of the universal mask mandate by the governor, supported by the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health, indicates that universal masking is not a necessary public health intervention at this point in time. If this were a necessary public health intervention, the mandate would continue as it was renewed in the past by the Governor when necessitated.

The infection rates in the region, and in particular the Westport community and Westport Public Schools, have dropped precipitously over the past month. Virus prevalence is a significant factor in determining the need for various mitigating measures, including masking. The prevalence rate is bottoming out, and possibly reaching a level that could be expected to be our new normal.

Average daily COVID cases in Fairfield County, May 2020 to February 2022.

Westport is among the highest vaccinated communities in the state, providing strong support against health complications as a result of contracting the virus.  In addition, the widespread infection rate of the Omicron variant also provided significant levels of natural immunity to our community. Furthermore, this most recent virus strain appears to be less virulent than earlier variants, such as Delta.

Fidelity to mask wearing is critical to the success of this intervention.  Throughout the pandemic our students and staff were vigilant in properly wearing masks, and most importantly, time outside of school was largely reinforced by consistency in mask wearing as this was an expectation in all settings for our students (i.e. community places, extracurricular activities, etc.).

However, for our students now, school is one of the few locations where masks are regularly worn and mandated. Additionally, the fidelity of proper mask wearing has waned significantly over the past few months according to faculty and building administrators, particularly at the secondary level. Mask quality has also been called into question during the Omicron surge.

Maintaining a mandate when proper mask wearing is limited, and when most students do not wear masks outside of the school setting while interacting with each other, provides a false sense of security and a false impression of the efficacy of mandated universal masking in our schools.

Scarice noted that mitigation measures like ventilation, social distancing and hand hygiene will continue to be implemented. Serial testing will continue through the end of March. Daily reports of new cases will also continue, and local conditions will be monitored closely.

He added:

Students, their families, and anyone on our WPS team may choose to continue to wear a mask, commonly referred to as “one-way” masking. “One-way” masking works and provides protection for an individual.

Eliminating the universal mandate does not eliminate all measures of protection. As we evolve through the stages of the pandemic, I suspect that a gradual lifting of individual choice in masking will unfold. Some will choose to no longer wear a mask and, perhaps over time, others will choose the same. In the interim, “one-way” masking will be honored and respected in our schools, and it will provide additional protection for individuals.

Some students will continue to wear masks. This painting — “Masked COVID Portrait” is by Westport teenager Dereje Tarrant.

Scarice said that the elimination of the governor’s emergency order means that school districts will no longer need to require proof of vaccination or approval of a medical or religious exemption from vaccination for prospective employees.

Also eliminated: the requirement for employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. And the district will no longer require vaccination, or proof of a negative test, for visitors. 

Scarice’s recommendations apply to all students and stuff, including Stepping Stones Preschool.

Federal requirements still mandates that masks be worn on school buses.

Scarice continued:

It has been pointed out that students return from the February break when the mask mandate is lifted. There have been concerns about a potential spike in infection rates upon return from vacation.

I do not see the recent winter break as an appropriate comparison since that surge was driven by the Omicron variant.However, we did experience a number of families traveling during the Thanksgiving break and did not experience an increase in infection rates.

Furthermore, I believe that a continued mandate in response to the vacation break would have minimal impact in mitigation as students are largely not wearing masks in any other activities or events in the community.

As mentioned earlier, throughout the pandemic students were vigilant in properly wearing masks, and most importantly, time outside of school was largely reinforced by consistency in mask wearing as this was an expectation in all settings for our students (i.e. community places, extracurricular activities, etc.).

However, if school is the only location where masks will be mandated following the vacation, I believe that we would gain little more than a false sense of security and a false impression of the efficacy of mandating masks in schools for an additional week or two. Again, students and staff may continue with “one-way” masking.

Given our high vaccination rates, the lack of an increase in infection rates after Thanksgiving, and the inconsistency in the fidelity of mask wearing, in and outside of our school environment, I do not believe that postponing the elimination of the mask mandate is necessary.

As to enforcing “one-way masking,” Scarice said:

Individuals (i.e. students and staff) may choose to continue to wear a mask.  The district, all faculty, support staff and administrators, support this choice for individuals. However, we will not have the capacity to track and enforce individual choice for each student if parents require their child to continue wearing masks. As a district, we will honor and support each family’s choice, yet we will not enforce “one-way” masking for each child.

Scarice asked that parents help with the transition away from a mask mandate:

Preparing for change by engaging in a conversation and allowing your child to ask questions can reduce any stress and anxiety.

Some students may be eager to remove their mask and return to some sense of normalcy. For others, this change can create anxiety for a variety of reasons, including health concerns and fears about being judged for wearing or not wearing a mask.

As in most situations, children follow the example of their parents and primary caregivers. Expressing your thoughts and feelings about masking and unmasking will be important to help your child understand why your family has made the choice to continue or discontinue wearing a mask in school.

Students will be reminded at school that each family is making a decision based on what is best for them, as we all have different circumstances. There is no right or wrong. We want to be sure everyone feels safe and accepted in school, whether they are wearing a mask or not.

Children should be encouraged to state that they feel more comfortable wearing or not wearing a mask and that it’s OK if their friend chooses something different. If at any time your child feels that others are making them feel uncomfortable about wearing or not wearing a mask, they should let their teacher or another trusted adult at school know immediately.

Similarly, parents are encouraged to contact their child’s teacher or building principal if they have concerns. School psychologists, counselors, and social workers are available to support students if needed.

Navigating this transition in school is new for everyone, and we will need to work together to support our children through this new experience.

Scarice concluded:

As I stated in my message to the community on Friday, many issues in the modern world have become polarizing, including universal masking. The district team is committed to supporting the personal choice of each individual student and staff member, and to protecting everyone in our school community from unwelcome comments and behaviors.

Lack of respect or inappropriate comments or behaviors will not be tolerated as families consider what is best for their child and family.

We will continue to carefully monitor case rates and attendance and evaluate any new guidance issued by the Connecticut Department of Public Health. Adjustments to our approach will be made as necessary.

Roundup: Mask Mandate, Downtown Stores, Another Olympian …

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Masks in schools may not be required statewide after February 28.

Governor Lamont announced yesterday recommending lifting a mandate for students and staff.

The topic has been a hot one. Last week, a group posted “Unmask Our Children” signs around town. Others countered that masks are still needed, to prevent vulnerable populations.

School mask decisions will now be made by local authorities, such as boards of education. Westport Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice — who is empowered to make the decision, based on town COVID protocols — said at last night’s Board of Ed meeting that he’ll consult with medical experts and others, before making a recommendation.

A number of parents spoke at last night’s session, urging an end to Westport’s mask mandate.

Last December, participants in Staples High School’s Candlelight Concert wore masks. (Photo/Dan Woog)

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The Planning & Zoning Commission also met last night. Members adopted 2 downtown text amendments. One will eliminate a prohibition on retail operations above the first floor. The other allows will allow stores over 10,000 square feet (after applying for a special permit).

The P&Z continued to tweak zoning language for permitted uses at Baron’s South.

The Gap (left) has been grandfathered in for retail above the first floor. That will now be permitted elsewhere downtown.

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A bit of personal news: To celebrate my retirement as Staples High School boys soccer coach, I’ve helped endow a fund.

The Dan Woog Staples High School/LGBTQ Fund brings together my passion for high school soccer and LGBTQ advocacy, and my work with United Soccer Coaches — the 30,000-member professional organization I’ve served since 1983.

The fund will enable high school coaches who have shown commitment to the LGBTQ sports community to attend annual conventions, for education, networking and professional growth.

As founder of United Soccer Coaches’ LGBTQ & Allies member group, I’ve worked closely with Black, Latino, Native American, AAPI, disabled and faith-based groups. I’m honored to give back to this inclusive, progressive organization, which helps grow the sport of soccer for all coaches and players.

For the full press release, click here. To contribute to the fund, click here; then click “Select for a list of funds to support,” then “Options,” then scroll (way) down. (You may have to click “View More” at the bottom of the list …)

This poster greeted visitors to last month’s annual United Soccer Coaches convention in Kansas City.

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Speaking of Staples soccer : As Westporter’s celebrate the silver medal of our neighbor, Julia Marino, in slopestyle at the 2022 Olympic Games, we’ve got another nearby athlete to cheer for too.

Freestyle skier Mac Forehand grew up in Southport. His father — Ray Forehand — was on the Staples soccer team in 1976. Click here for details. Click here for a story about Ray and his wife, as they watch Mac compete half a world away.

Mac also competes in freeski slopestyle. (Hat tip: Rick Leonard)

Mac Forehand

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You know Earth Animal for its steadfast commitment to dogs and other creatures.

But since 1979, the local business has cared for people too.

Last year, the Post Road East store’s Mitten Project raised $40,000. Thanks to CT Foodshare, those funds will help local residents who struggle with food insecurity.

The Mitten Project began in 2007, with Earth Animal founder Susan Goldstein. She raised $300 that year.

Now, there’s plenty of help from area businesses, neighbors, friends, proceeds from the Earth Animal store, and matching contributions from Earth Animal Ventures in Southport.

Special thanks go to J. McLaughlin, Millie Rae;s, Farmer Sal, Outdoor Design & Living, Appleberry Farm, BP Provisions, Pine Creek Deli, KL & Sam, and Westport Hardware.

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Voices Café honors Black History Month with the noted duo Reggie Harris and Greg Greenway. Their signature performance — “Deeper Than The Skin” — comes to the Westport Unitarian Church’s long-running live music venue on Sunday, February 20 (7:30 p.m). It will also be livestreamed.

“Deeper Than The Skin” is a deeply personal presentation, in story and song. of race in America. Harris and Greenway face down racial injustice with creative resistance, friendship, music and joy.

Proceeds from Voices Café’s performances benefit local social justice causes. Future guests include Westporter Suzanne Sheridan (March 12) and Connecticut’s creative artists Caravan of Thieves (April 9).

Click here for more information about Voices’ spring season, and for tickets.

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The Westport Library’s strong support of the arts continues. A generous grant from the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center will support upcoming exhibits.

Next up: “Stepping Out on Faith: The Art and Journey of Charles Joyner.” The event — with the world-renowned (and Staples High School graduate) artist opens with a panel discussion and reception on March 10.

This exhibit, with a corresponding podcast series and musical performance, is also supported by a grant from CT Humanities.

“Village @ Ntonso” (Charles Joyner)

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Our “Westport … Naturally” feature has highlighted wild turkeys. But none have been as close-up — and wild-looking — as this shot by David Vita, from Lyons Plains Road:

(Photo/David Vita)

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And finally … want a little taste of Voices Café’s Black History Month presentation of “Deeper Than the Skin” (above)? Click below:

Scarice Offers Update On Adaptations, Modifications And Test Kits

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice says:

It appears that we will have enough staffing to welcome students back [today].  There is a significant shortage of substitute teachers so covering classes of absent teachers will be a challenge. Principals will work collaboratively to ensure sufficient coverage of classrooms.

The bus driver roster is thin. At the present moment there are enough drivers to transport students. However, there is the possibility of combining more routes to cover all student pickups and drop offs.

As we did at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, we ask parents to transport their child when possible. This will thin out the number of riders and make runs more efficient. However, rest assured that we will continue to run our routes. Students will only be permitted to ride on their own buses. The opportunity to ride on another bus has been suspended for the time being.  We ask for your patience

State Provided Testing Kits

5,040 iHealth COVID tests (reserved for students) and 864 Flow Flex COVID tests (reserved for staff) will be ready for pickup [today] in Phase I of the shipment of test kits. The purpose of these tests is to identify positive cases in advance so that we can keep as many positive cases out of our schools as possible.

The tests will be prioritized, and used to screen students and staff in the following cases:

  1. Symptomatic students and staff

  2. Students and staff who experienced a direct exposure

  3. Students and staff in a setting with multiple positive cases (i.e. one classroom with multiple cases)

The district will have a truck ready for pickup at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning. Town leaders have been instrumental in supporting our efforts, and we are most appreciative of this partnership. Details on distribution of test kits will be forthcoming.

Lunch 

In an effort to maximize spacing during lunch, each school will do their best, within their footprint and the spaces available, to further spread students out during lunch. Although the plexiglass shields have shown little in prevention of virus spread, feedback from the schools indicates that students are more likely to stay in their space during lunch when the shields are on the tables. This is more of behavioral intervention, but one that should be most helpful in establishing and maintaining spacing during lunch. As a result, the plexiglass shields will be returning to lunch settings for all schools.

Student Performances and Concerts

Student performances and concerts that were scheduled over the next couple of weeks will be postponed yet again.  Look for more information from your building principal on the scheduling of performances and concerts.

K-8 Recess

In an effort to to maximize the use of masking, all students will continue the wearing of masks outside for recess at the K-8 level until further notice. Once rates decline, this provision will be removed. Mask breaks will be handled at the school level, but the continued use of masks will be expected, including during recess, until further notice.

After School Programs

Secondary level ( CMS, BMS, SHS) afterschool programs (clubs, sports, etc,) will continue at the present moment. Each club, activity, or sport will be treated individually and meetings/games/practices will be suspended on a case by case basis after consultation with our Supervisor of Health Services.

All elementary after- or before-school programming will be suspended for the current week. A reassessment will be done at the end of this week and further information will be provided to parents at that point in time. This includes Continuing Education programs for elementary students.

Visitors

Just before the break I notified the community that visitors will not be allowed in our schools through January 7. A reassessment of this provision has been done and visitors will continue to be prohibited from our school buildings through the end of this month. Parent meetings with faculty and administrators will be done virtually for the month of January.

Staples High School Mid-Term Exams

Modifications are being made to the mid term exams at Staples. These modifications include significantly reducing the weighting of the exam on a student’s grade, and expanding the time for making up an exam for a student in isolation, quarantine or symptomatic. The Staples administration will provide further details to students and families regarding the changes to the mid term exams.,

Supports for Students In Isolation, Quarantine, or Symptomatic

Students who have tested positive or who are in quarantine will not be able to access in-person learning for approximately five days given the new guidelines.  Additionally, any students exhibiting COVID symptoms will be advised to stay home from school. For this reason, we are in the process of revisiting the supports we provide to students who cannot access in-person learning. There are currently practices in place, including a tutoring model for our elementary students, and extra help sessions for middle and high school students, who cannot access in-person learning for the reasons above.

We will monitor our numbers over the next few days and determine if there is a need to increase the range of supports for students who cannot access in-person instruction. The one benefit with the new guidelines is that the shortened isolation and quarantine periods allow asymptomatic students to return after five days. If this period includes a weekend, it is possible that a student will only miss three days, compared to ten or more based on last year’s guidelines.

Again, we will monitor the number of absences and, as we have done throughout the pandemic, modify our approach to meet the needs of our students.

Scarice: School District COVID Update

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent this message today to Westport families:

As an interim follow-up to the message yesterday, I would like to share some additional updates regarding recent changes in isolation, quarantine and contact tracing guidelines, as well as an opportunity for COVID-19 testing for students and families this Monday.

As previously announced, Monday (January 3) will be a “staff only” day, as the winter break will be extended 1 day. Students are expected to return Tuesday.

Maintaining the health and safety of our students and staff, while keeping our students in school and engaged in all of their programs, remains our priority.

Possible COVID-19 Testing Clinic for Students Monday, January 3

In an effort to keep positive student cases out of our schools we are in the planning stages with Progressive Diagnostics, our partner with our in-school weekly testing program. Initial plans are being made to host a testing clinic for Westport Public School students and families this Monday. All family members will have the opportunity to be tested, and insurance will be billed.

The initial plan is to provide space in our Staples High School fieldhouse.  Appointments will be scheduled by Progressive through an on-line scheduler.  The link to schedule an appointment will be provided through a follow-up communication once the details have been finalized.

This is in the planning stages, but we wanted to make our students and families aware of this possibility given the lack of testing options in the region.

The Westport Public Schools have already offered several vaccination clinics for staff and students, in the Staples High School fieldhouse.

Changes in Isolation Guidelines

Last night,  the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) notified all superintendents that the state has adopted changes to the isolation, quarantine, and contact tracing guidelines.

Students and staff who test positive for COVID-19:

  • should isolate at home for at least 5 days, or longer if symptoms develop and persist,

  • wear a mask for the subsequent 5 days at all times when around others,

  • return to school on or after day 6 if symptoms have resolved, and they have been fever free for at least 24 hours without fever reducing medication.

This is a change from the previous isolation period of 10 days.

If your child has tested positive for COVID-19 on or before December 29, they can return to school on January 4 if they are symptom-free. Students who have tested positive after December 29 should remain home and isolate for 5 days and return to school on Day 6 if symptom free.

Contact Tracing and Quarantine Practices

Individual contact tracing is less effective when community transmission is high. This process further taxes our nurse and health staff, and our building administrators, to a point that it becomes more challenging to attend to the needs of the students currently in school.

Connecticut DPH has determined that routine contact tracing within the school buildings and during supervised activities can be discontinued. Our priority will be early identification of positive cases and assuring appropriate isolation.

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated students and staff (defined has having only 1 dose of a 2-dose vaccine, or being within 2 weeks of the final dose) experiencing a high risk exposure incident outside of school (athletic event, sleepover, other similar activities) will:

  • quarantine for 5 days

  • obtain a test on day 5 with either with an at home or lab test and

  • return to school wearing a mask at all times when with others for up to 10 days.

Vaccinated school staff and students with an exposure outside of school may:

  • continue with in-person learning,

  • test with either an at home or lab test on day 5, and

  • wear a mask at all times.

Support for Students in Isolation or Quarantine

Part of the work over the vacation period and on Monday will be to provide as many supports for students in isolation or quarantine as possible. More information will be forthcoming at the end of the day on Monday on this effort.

Notifications of Positive Cases

When a positive case is identified, elementary classroom notifications will be made as well as grade level and school notifications. As the numbers of cases remains high, we will continue to report district numbers daily and maintain the district dashboard. This work is very demanding, and might not be entirely accurate at a given moment. We ask for your patience, and reiterate that the district will continue full transparency as we have done this entire pandemic.  Any delay is a matter of the human resources necessary to maintain our data.

Masks

Not only is universal masking still part of the governor’s Executive Order, but an increased emphasis on mask wearing will be implemented on our return on January 4. Staff and students will be required to wear face masks at all times when in the presence of staff and students.

  • The provision for teachers to remove masks when teaching from the front of the classroom will be suspended until further notice from the Superintendent’s office.

  • Reminders will be provided for all students to reinforce proper mask wearing.

  • There is significant “mask fatigue” in our community and our schools. Faculty, staff, and administrators are doing, and will continue to do their best to ensure proper mask wearing among our student population.

  • DPH has reinstated the use of masks for all athletes to continuously wear masks during athletic competitions.

  • In addition to our supply of KN95 masks for staff, the district anticipates a shipment of N95 masks from the state for staff use.

De-densification in the lunchroom

  • All efforts will be made to provide additional spacing between students while at lunch at all levels.

  • This task is very challenging, yet our school-based teams will continue to put thought into how to further “de-densify” our lunch settings.

Vaccination Efforts

We encourage all families that have not already done so, to get vaccinations and boosters 6 months after the last vaccinations of Pfizer and Moderna and 2 months after J & J vaccine  It is anticipated that the FDA will authorize boosters for 12-15 year-olds this week.

During this time of high transmission it is more important than ever, whether vaccinated, partially vaccinated or unvaccinated, to stay home when ill. Even mild symptoms such as headache, fatigue and nasal congestion can be signs of COVID-19. Stay home, test for COVID-19 with either an at-home or lab test, and remain home until you are symptom free for at least 24 hours.

You can anticipate an additional update by the end of the weekend. In the interim, please stay healthy and rest assured that the district is working continuously on maintaining the health and safety of our students and staff, while keeping our students in school and engaged in all of their programs.

Scarice: Increased Mitigation; No Remote Learning

This afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent this message to all Westport Public Schools families:

Throughout the pandemic, our community and our schools have been able to flexibly adapt our mitigating measures in order to respond to the changing conditions. Our benchmark has been to continually review our strategies and consider changes every 4-6 weeks, sometimes sooner. However, the recent sharp increase in cases over the past 4 or 5 days warrants action.

The district has increased the frequency of reporting cases in direct proportion to the increase in the volume of positive tests. Our weekly screening program, administered yesterday, identified 12 asymptomatic cases. In addition, since this morning, another 18 cases have been reported. The town of Westport has reported 113 cases this week, up from a total of 41 last week.

Nearly all who have tested positive report mild to moderate symptoms. Based on minimal transmission in the school setting compared to the community, we continue to believe that our schools may be one of the safest places for our students to be.

With strong mitigation, schools are safe during COVID. (Photo Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Increase in Mitigating Measures
However, in order to strengthen our measures and keep our students and staff safe, we will take actions to limit activities we believe may contribute to the potential of spread within our schools at this point in time. These measures include:

  • The grade 8 trip to Staples High School for the Candlelight performance will be canceled. Other opportunities will be explored
  • Holiday parties in the classroom will continue, with an emphasis on social distancing
  • Effective immediately, parent and school visitors will be restricted from accessing our school buildings through January 7.
  • Concerts/performances will not be held through January 7.

While we regret having to take these measures just prior to the holiday, it is our hope that this present wave of COVID-19 will subside and our cases will decrease which will allow mitigating measures to be relaxed.

Remote Learning
I have received a couple of inquiries regarding a preemptive move to remote learning. Remote learning is not an option for districts this year.

Districts are not permitted to implement remote instruction as a school, or as a district, preemptively like last year. School districts are able to implement continued educational opportunities (tutoring, remote contact with teachers outside of the classroom, before and after school programs, etc.) for students who must be in COVID-19 isolation or quarantine. This year, school districts are not permitted to implement remote learning. That provision was removed prior to the start of the school year.

Learning remotely — as shown with teacher Peter von Euler last year — is no longer a school-wide option.

Again, based on our data and experience over the past 2 school years, we continue to maintain a safe environment for our students and staff, with minimal transmission of the virus in our settings, particularly when compared to community transmission rates. Maintaining continued contact with peers and faculty, while attending to the social/emotional needs of our students is critical to their long term mental health and overall wellness.

We will continue to monitor cases throughout our break and provide case updates through our emails. Families are asked to continue to report positive cases through our hotline. Please note that contact tracing will be limited throughout the break.

Scarice Addresses School Safety Concerns

Yesterday, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent this message to all Westport Public Schools parents:

Late yesterday [Wednesday] afternoon, the district was informed of a disturbing trend of school violence threats on social media. Social media posts have mentioned acts of school violence on December 17.

The state Department of Education shared information this morning [Thursday] that state law enforcement officials have determined that these threats are not credible. The posts have not originated in our town, and there have been no specific threats to our schools. However, some of our students have mentioned this trend to faculty and administrators today.

We are fortunate to have a very effective partnership with our local law enforcement experts, the Westport Police Department. In addition, a security guard is assigned to each school, there is a School Resource Officer at our high school, and the WPD has assigned an additional police officer dedicated exclusively to our school campuses.

As a precaution, the Westport Police Department has offered to station an officer outside each of our schools tomorrow [Friday] for the school day. Again, although these threats are not deemed credible or specific to Westport, at a minimum this presence will serve to reassure any members of our school community who might have concerns about this social media trend, particularly for tomorrow.

If you or your child receive any information related to specific threats to our school community, it is critically important that you make a report to the WPD and school immediately.

“06880” Podcast: Thomas Scarice On Critical Race Theory

Last April, superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice was the first guest on my “06880” podcast. He spoke eloquently about his background, the Westport school system, and education in general.

This week he visited the Westport Library again. This time, we chatted about one specific topic: Critical Race Theory.

CRT has generated a lot of controversy, nationally and locally. The town’s chief education official discusses where it came from, what it is, and how it impacts the Westport schools.

Click below to watch.