Tag Archives: Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice

Scarice: Travel Wisely Over April Break

A week before spring vacation — with COVID still a strong concern — Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice issued travel guidelines.

He also reminded families of quarantine mandates for athletes staying overnight at out of state events, . Scarice wrote:

Although Governor Lamont’s Executive Order regarding travel is no longer in effect, the Department of Public Health recommends that all Connecticut residents follow CDC Guidelines for Travelers.

Students and staff traveling over the April vacation are asked to follow the guidelines below, which are consistent with the expectations that have been previously communicated.

  • While traveling, please continue to utilize all appropriate mitigation strategies (including mask wearing, distancing, symptom recognition, hand washing, etc.) regardless of whether they are mandated at your destination.

  • Before travel, review current DPH and CDC recommendations for travel during COVID-19, and plan sufficient time for any necessary actions.

  • Before returning to school after travel, we ask everyone to:

    • Get a viral test after returning to Connecticut, and stay out of school until you receive a negative test from the laboratory.

    • Be aware of and closely self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms during and after your trip, especially for the 14 days after returning.

    • Immediately quarantine if anyone with you on your trip tests positive after returning to Connecticut.
    • Be prepared to immediately quarantine if/when symptoms appear.

International travelers should be aware of the additional COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination prior to departure: click here. You may also find these Frequently Asked Questions helpful.

Any student traveling overnight to participate in an athletic tournament must quarantine for a minimum of 7 days upon returning to Connecticut, even with a negative COVID-19 test result.  Additionally, any student not testing must quarantine for a full 10 days upon returning from an overnight out-of-state tournament.  These expectations come directly from the DPH document, “Updated Guidance for the Operation of Interscholastic, Youth and other Amateur Sport Activities during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Connecticut mandates quarantines for any athletes participating in out-of-state events, if they include overnight stays.

As we conclude our second, and final, round of vaccinations for faculty and staff this week, we turn our efforts to supporting parents in vaccinating our 16+ student population.

At this point in the year, nearly 2/3 of our high school population is 16+.  Currently, only the Pfizer vaccine has received emergency approval for administration to children ages 16+. This is not the vaccine that has been distributed to our local health district. However, there are options in our region to advance this effort.

There might be clinics in the region that will be dedicated to local students. We may have more specificity just prior to the April break.  Stay tuned!

School districts across the state are awaiting guidance from the DPH regarding end-of-year activities, including graduation, proms, etc. It is likely that we will continue to be encouraged to favor outdoor activities, with universal mask wearing and social distancing.

Once the DPH document is released, the district will move from “save the date” to planning specifics of our end-of-year activities, knowing that any event can change at a moment’s notice until the pandemic is behind us.

Please continue to report any cases over the break to our hotline. We intend to stay on top of our reporting procedures and data, as we have with prior vacation periods.

Thank you for all of the support and patience this year.

Board Of Ed: Facilities, Funding And COVID Facts

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice hopes to set up a $100 million, 10-year plan to maintain Westport Public Schools’ facilities. And the Board of Education wants to develop a mater plan that includes that maintenance project.

Those were among the main discussion points at last night’s Board of Education meeting. Brian Fullenbaum reports that the board will begin discussions with town bodies on collaborationo and resource-sharing to implement the facilities proposal.

The meeting began with a statement by Scarice on the recent shootings in Atlanta. He noted that Westport is already engaging in a district-wide equity study.

Scarice said that since September, 2,800 students and adults have quarantined because of COVID. Only 6 positive cases arose from that group. Overall, 232 students have reported positive cases.

Supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur reported that of 23 positive cases this year, most were at the high school level. Many come from small social gatherings.

So far, over 500 staff members have been vaccinated, at the district’s clinics. The 2nd dose will be given in 2 weeks. The district may create another clinic for students 16 and older, when that cohort is eligible for the vaccine starting April 5.

District officials are discussing how best to identify “close contacts,” in view of the CDC’s new guidelines reducing the 6-foot distance to 3 feet.

As Staples High School gets set to fully reopen this Thursday (March 25), the percentage of full-time distance learners in the district remains steady, at about 20%.

Assistant superintendent John Bayers announced that because of 2 snow days, as of right now the last day for students is Monday, June 21.

The board accepted 2 gifts: $10,000 from the Staples Music Parents Association (to purchase recording technology equipment), and $2,308 from the Saugatuck Elementary School PTA (to purchase books for the “One Book One School” program).

Karen Kleine provided an update on 2nd readings of 3 policies: AEDs, security and safety, and social media.

[UPDATE] Marpe, Scarice Speaks Out On Anti-Asian Violence

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

I am heartbroken by the recent surge in the despicable acts that are targeting members of the Asian American and Pacific Island community. An attack on any is an attack on all that we hold dear as a community that embraces inclusiveness in how we govern, and in how we interact with our neighbors. I wholeheartedly condemn such violence.

Town Hall flags fly at half staff, in memory of the victims of the Atlanta shooting. (Courtesy of Town of Westport/Facebook)

We celebrate diversity in this community, and we do all that we are able to insure everyone, residents and workforce alike, feels safe, secure, and welcome in Westport.

Together, we must support and encourage programs and policies that include frank discussions on race and inclusivity. By doing so, we will come to a better understanding and open acceptance of our unique personal qualities. We accept and honor every aspect of the human experience that makes us members of a civil society.

To that end, I will request that the Board of Selectmen approve a resolution condemning the hate and violence against Asian-Pacific Americans at its regular meeting scheduled for Wednesday, March 24.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice says:

Like many of you, I felt great sorrow over the tragic events in Atlanta last week.  I made a prepared statement for the Board of Education meeting this evening.  However, after receiving a number of heartfelt emails over the weekend, I was moved to share my comments with the school community prior to the meeting.

The unspeakable act of violence in Atlanta last week was yet another reminder of the chasm between our world today, and the ideal of the world we envision.  The violent loss of life, of any life, is destructive to what we aspire to be as a nation, and to what we aim to build as neighbors.

The Westport Public Schools stands with all communities in denouncing all forms of violence, racism, and xenophobia. The commitment of our district is to embrace and respect all people, while creating inclusive school environments where all students and adults feel a strong sense of belonging, affiliation, and connection.

This work takes commitment from all levels of the school community. On behalf of the Board of Education, and the faculty and staff, I want to affirm that as we stand beside all members of our community, that we particularly show support for our brothers and sisters in the Asian American community, which has experienced a tragic increase in acts of violence and hatred.

Our district has made a strong commitment to ensuring that each and every student and adult is treated with dignity and feels an abiding sense of belonging.  We continue this work as we engage in an equity study, pushing us to confront our practices and to ensure that we are doing our part to make this a more equitable and peaceful world.

By collaborating with community groups, initiating school based equity teams, and working with our curriculum coordinators to incorporate the appropriate discussion of these topics in our classrooms, the Westport Public Schools can successfully make all those in our schools feel welcome, while preparing our students for the diversity of the modern world.

Although our flags fly at half mast in remembrance of those lost in an horrific act of violence, let us not forget that it is in the day to day work of our schools, the incremental steps we take, that we see the most profound change and progress over time.

Staples: Full In-Person Learning Begins March 25

More than a year after going fully remote — and after beginning the 2020-21 school year at 50% capacity, then transitioning to 75% this winter — Staples High School returns to full in-person education on March 25.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice says:

The district maintained a very conservative approach to our schooling models for the first half of the year. Nearly 7 weeks ago, based on our local experience, input from our public health partners, and a projected drop in infection rates, we reopened our elementary and middle schools for full in-person learning.

Additionally, on March 1, Staples High School increased access for students by implementing a 3 day a week, 75% in-person model.

Since then, our faculty and staff have done a remarkable job and we have experienced great success. The work of our professional educators this year simply cannot be overstated.

We continue to maintain a responsibility to minimizing virus spread in our community. Yet we must balance that responsibility with our obligations to overall student wellness, most significantly, their mental and emotional well-being. As a result, on Thursday March 25, Staples High School will reopen for full in-person learning.

Staples High School’s parking lots will be more filled on March 25. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

Contact Tracing and Quarantines 
In reviewing local data, I found that we have contact traced and quarantined over 2,800 students and adults this year. Out of the 2,800+ quarantined, only 6 who were determined to be close contacts (.002%) have tested positive for COVID.

Additionally, to our knowledge, of the 232 students who have tested positive for COVID, there have been zero known cases of “student to adult virus transmission,” and zero known cases of students experiencing serious health complications as a result of infection.

As a result of this data, we engaged the health district to seek support for revisiting the definition of a close contact, and the duration of quarantines.  Currently, close contacts are defined as being within 6 feet of a known positive COVID case for an accumulation of 15 minutes, while quarantines for close contacts are 10 days in length.

Based on our data, we will now begin to define close contacts as those within 3 feet of a known COVID positive case, not 6 feet. Recent literature has pointed to this change in guidance. Considering that our entire population is masked at all times, our local health district and medical advisor support this change as well.  We will continue to monitor our practices and make adjustments as needed.

However, given the trends in data collected by the health district, we will continue to recommend a 10 day quarantine for those determined to be close contacts. Although the CDC allows for a 70day quarantine following a negative test on day 5, the health district shared that there are more than a few cases in the community, not in our schools, in which a close contact tested positive after day 7. A change was made to reduce the length of quarantine in December from 14 days to 10 days. This standard will remain for the foreseeable future.

“Sophie in Quarantine” (Claudia Rossman)

Early Dismissals
In an effort to provide additional time to support our distance learners, and to accommodate our teachers who have taken on additional responsibilities during arrival and dismissal, the Wednesday early dismissals will continue for the foreseeable future.

However, Staples will begin to provide in-person learning on our Wednesday early dismissals beginning on April 21 within the new full in-person model beginning March 25. Our middle schools are working to revisit their schedule following the April break. More information will be forthcoming about any potential changes to the middle school schedule in the near future.

Travel Guidance 
On March 19, 2021, Governor Lamont’s Executive Order 9S regarding travel will change from an executive order to a recommended practice. Under this order, anyone traveling outside of New York, New Jersey or Rhode Island, for a period of time longer than 24 hours, requires a negative COVID test within 72 hours of return to CT, or a 10 day quarantine.

If using the testing option, an individual should remain in self-quarantine until a negative test is obtained. In collaboration with the WWHD and our medical advisor, the district will continue to support this practice. Please contact your school nurse if you have any questions.

Ending the Year with Normalcy
We have placed a high priority on ending the year with as much “normalcy” as possible. Our thinking is that the more normalcy we end the year with, the easier it will be to start the new year with normalcy. As we plan our end-of-year events and the daily operations, we will look to continue to bring a sense of normalcy to our schools.

Board Of Ed: Pupils, Projects And More

The social, mental and physical health — and the health of several school buildings — were the focuses at last night’s Board of Education meeting.

On the student side, Brian Fullenbaum reports that townwide health and physical education coordinator Chris Wanner and Staples phys. ed. teacher CJ Shamas presented an update on social and emotional learning.

Embedded in the high school curriculum for juniors, it addresses social and emotional skills from a growth mindset point of view. Video testimonials showed students enjoying the health classes.

Board member Elaine Whitney and Westport Public Schools chief financial officer Elio Longo provided an update on capital projects.

Paving is needed at Greens Farms, Coleytown and Long Lots Elementary Schools, plus Bedford Middle and Wakeman. All roads there are at least 20 years old.

The $1.6 million estimated cost is significantly lower than expected, due to a partnership with the town’s Department of Public Works.

The Saugatuck Elementary roof project is out to bid. Work is scheduled for this summer. It should proceed without state assistance, because the roof is beyond its useful life.

A new roof is planned for Saugatuck Elementary School.

Staples’ roof replacement can be deferred for a year. State assistance may be available.

In the area of capital maintenance projects — from $500,000 to $2 million — superintendent Thomas Scarice noted that outside companies can help maximize value, and stay on schedule and within budget. He would like to create a school modernization master plan, then use help from an OPM to get through the process, including larger maintenance projects. The board discussed collaborating with the town on capital projects.

The board approved a new policy for minority staff recruitment. It updates the former document with more inclusionary language.

Supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur’s COVID report noted a slight uptick in cases in Westport schools last week, to 13 cases. The district’s first vaccination clinic for staff — run in conjunction with Weston and Easton — is scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday, March 3) in the Staples fieldhouse. 250 people are expected to get shots.

Scarice: How A Community Works … Together

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice offered this update today:

It’s been a very busy week, and I would like to provide the school community with some updates.

“We’re Tired of Being A Part of History”
Eight words uttered by one of our middle schoolers recently. Eight words that capture the sentiments and experience of a generation. For me, these are 8 words that scream, “Enough!!”

A generation of post-9/11 babies, raised in schools pierced by the haunting of Sandy Hook. Digital dopamine dispensers at their fingertips. The destructive funhouse mirror of social media staring them in the face. Overly exposed to images of violence and sex. Social unrest. A generational pandemic. Enough!

“If you can’t give children optimism, then what are you doing?” – Matt Haig
I awoke Wednesday morning to a news briefing in my inbox titled, “‘Covid zero’ isn’t going to happen — but normal life still can.”

The optimism that was forecasted weeks ago is just beginning to be realized.

It is true that COVID, like other coronaviruses, will circulate for years.  Yet, the expectation of managing COVID, similar to the seasonal flu, is just before us.

Superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice.

Infection rates have dropped precipitously since January, vaccines are racing to communities, treatments are proving to be effective, and testing is ubiquitous.  Although “COVID zero” is not in our immediate future, the return to an approximation of normalcy is.

As was noted in the news briefing that landed in my inbox, “The seasonal flu does not grind life to a halt. It does not keep people from flying on airplanes, eating in restaurants, visiting their friends or going to school and work.”

While Mother Nature’s traditional New England winter begins to recede, and daylight savings approaches with sunsets closer to 7 p.m. than school dismissal, there is reason for optimism as the anticipation intensifies.

How a Community Works…Together
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” – Fred Rogers

Monday morning I rang a bell. That bell was heard by leaders in our community: 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper, Police Chief Foti Koskinas, Deputy Fire Chief Mike Kronick, WPS human resources director John Bayers, WPS supervisor of health services Sue Levasseur.

In a matter of 3 days these community leaders imagined, planned and designed a comprehensive school-based vaccination clinic for all WPS personnel. My words could never do this justice, but it was an illustration of how a community works…together.

School-Based Vaccination Clinics
Through a partnership with the Westport Weston Health District, and in collaboration with Weston and Easton, I could not be more enthused to announce that our first vaccination clinic will be held Wednesday, March 3 in the Staples High School fieldhouse from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for members of the Westport Public Schools team.

The plan is to hold clinics each successive Wednesday, based on vaccine availability, until all personnel who want to be vaccinated have had the opportunity. By working across 3 school districts, there is a better chance of securing adequate vaccines as quickly as possible.

Per Governor Lamont, priority must be given to educators who have direct contact with schools and students. All district employees, food service employees, transportation providers, and those who have direct contact with schools and students, will be eligible to receive the vaccine as of March 1 at any location, including the school-based clinic.

We will proceed as quickly as possible in having as many personnel vaccinated, which means that we may have remote days when vaccines are being offered, and we may have to factor in non-school days if side effects from the second dose result in staffing issues.

Remote Learning Day March 3
In order to mobilize our personnel and vaccinate as many members of the WPS school community as possible, March 3 will be a remote learning day for all students, pre-K to 12. It will be synchronous for students, as staff members with scheduled vaccine appointments will alert their students to transition to asynchronous work when they go for their shots. Students will resume synchronous learning once the staff member returns to their assignment.

Additional information regarding upcoming clinics, and how they may or may not impact the school day, is forthcoming.

What’s Next
As our implementation of full in-person learning continues, pre-K to 8, and the high school model increases access to in-person learning for Staples students on Monday (March 1), we will continue to monitor our progress in advancing forward in a measured, safe way.

Vaccinations are a significant leap in the direction of increasing a sense of normalcy for our students. Updates will be provided on further access at Staples and end of the year events. Let the optimism grow and impart it to the children around you.

Stay tuned…

Scarice: After Vacation, Quarantine Or Test!

All week long, Westport schools have been on winter break. 

As in years past, families headed on vacation. They skied in Vermont and Colorado. They swam in Florida, and snorkeled off St. Martin.

But this year is not like all those others. We are still in a pandemic. Governor Lamont has issued travel mandates. Connecticut residents must take precautions — testing and quarantining — when returning from out of state.

Today, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice said:

Dear Westport Families and Staff,

As we head into the final weekend of the winter break I want to remind everyone of Governor Lamont’s Executive order 9S, regarding travel.

Students and staff returning from travel to anywhere other than New Jersey, New York or Rhode Island, where they have stayed longer than 24 hours, are required by law to follow this executive order.

Governor Ned Lamont’s order on out-of-state travel includes $500 fines.

We want to remind families to continue reporting positive COVID-19 cases of students using our reporting voicemail or email regardless of whether the students are in remote or hybrid models of instruction. Please follow this link for more information on reporting.

As noted last week, the travel guidance linked and outlined below is important information as the winter break draws to a close, but it remains critical for families and staff to remember that smaller social gatherings with family and friends have an equal, if not greater potential, for transmission of COVID-19 if mask wearing and other critical mitigation measures aren’t followed.

Thank you again for your help in following this guidance. Enjoy the weekend, and we look forward to seeing everyone next week!

As noted on Westport Local Press:

New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island are exempt from this advisory, and do not require quarantine or COVID-19 testing.

Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and all other states or countries are not exempt. If you visited any non-exempt state for more than 24 hours within the past 10 days:

    • All students and families must fill out the State Travel Health Form regardless of COVID-19 testing.

    • All students and families must quarantine when they return home to Connecticut, and must remain in quarantine for 10 days since last contact with the affected state.

    • Quarantine may be left if a rapid or PCR COVID-19 test was administered, and returned negative. The test can be administered up to 72 hours before returning to the Connecticut, or anytime thereafter. Results must be submitted to the Commissioner of Public Health .

Failure to quarantine, receive COVID-19 testing, and/or submit accurate State Travel Forms will result in a $500 civil penalty per violation (per family member, and/or per time leaving quarantine)

All positive COVID-19 cases for Westport Public Schools students or staff (virtual or in-person learnings) must be reported to the District by email or phone.

Anonymous reporting of people not adhering to the Connecticut Travel Advisory can be submitted online here.

Connecticut has strict rules for travelers returning from destinations like Cancun. Other states — for example, Texas — are less stringent.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scarice Addresses Absence Abuses, Distance Learning, Outside Gatherings And More

This afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice provided parents and the community with another COVID update.

After discussing the full reopening of the elementary and middle schools (set for Monday, February 1 — weather permitting), and providing an update on PPE, masks and desk shields — he addressed a rising problem in the district: abuse of the “Absent but Present Online” attendance option. Scarice said:

In a year of disruptions to our normal routines, perhaps nothing has done more to disrupt classroom instruction than the provision granted to families of keeping their child home on any given day, but remaining present “online” for attendance purposes (“APO” Absent but Present Online).

This provision has a very valuable purpose. This was designed to afford parents the opportunity to keep their child home if they have the slightest suspicion that their child might be ill. This is a critical mitigating measure in preventing potential virus spread.

However, in the purest sense of the word, this provision has been abused and must stop being misused.

There are too many examples of students traveling, or staying home for a variety of personal reasons, completely unrelated to the intended purpose of the “APO” standard (which is keeping a suspected ill child home).

The unintended result is a material disruption to the middle and high school classrooms. I am responsible, along with the entire administrative team, for preventing and addressing disruption to the learning environment. Recent misuse of this provision warrants administrative action.

Teachers on a daily basis put a great deal of time into planning for on-site learners and remote learners, simultaneously. As an educator I can share that this task alone is herculean, and it has been done admirably all year long.

Yet when planning for 10 on-site students, and 2 show up because 8 have invoked the “APO” provision, lessons must change on the fly and this disrupts the learning of every student in the class, on-site and remote.

Who will show up each day? No one knows.

As a result, the district is establishing standards for “APO” at the middle and high school level that will prohibit students from accessing this provision unless it is truly being used for the purposes that were mandated from the State Department of Education. Parents at the secondary level can anticipate more information on this in the immediate future as it relates to attendance and the earning of credits at the high school level.

Scarice also talked about the district’s plans to serve on-site and distance learners, in the months ahead.

As stated above, perhaps the greatest instructional challenge this year has been the simultaneous dual instruction of on-site and distance learners, particularly for our secondary teachers. I see this as an unnatural learning environment, or at least very unnatural to the familiar learning environments before the pandemic.

The provision of distance learning is warranted this year, given the need for certain students to take additional precautions. We have a moral obligation to educate these students and are doing so to the very best of our ability. We cannot provide facsimile of on-site instruction, but we can certainly educate distance learners effectively while helping them advance in their education.

A distance learner, hard at work.

As we begin the second half of the year and introduce more on-site instruction, the number of learners in the classroom will greatly outnumber our distance learners.

For this reason, and to keep our commitment to providing a high quality experience for distance learners, there is a concerted effort to identify and provide additional supports to distance learners moving forward.  There will be more information about these efforts in the very near future.

Distance learners are defined as a group of students that have elected to engage in distance learning for an extended period of time. This group does not include those students who are intermittently “APO” (Absent but Present Online).

The superintendent addressed vaccines, surveillance testing, and the timetable for Staples High School’s full on-site reopening.

We wait eagerly for educators to be notified that it is time to schedule an vaccination appointment. The time is approaching, particularly with new vaccines entering the emergency approval stage. In the interim, I ask that you join me in advocating for advancing the timeline for educators by contacting state representatives, state senators and other related officials.

COVID-19 surveillance testing is employed in settings as a mitigating measure.  Professional sports along with private schools and various universities have used this approach to identify carriers of COVID-19. The town of Westport has engaged in a program for its employees involving surveillance testing. The town has also offered a partnership with the school district to participate in this program. Monday night I will be sharing information related to this opportunity to the Board of Education.

Questions have been submitted regarding further reopening of Staples High School. We have placed focus on the K-8 level for the time being but will revisit the idea of increased access to additional on-site learning opportunities for students at Staples. Any efforts in this regard will not take place before the February break, but perhaps sometime thereafter. Models of modifying the cohorts to increase cohort size is a likely approach to increase access.

A date has not yet been set to fully reopen Staples High school. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Finally — and powerfully — Scarice appealed to the community to be vigilant about risk factors. Of special note: restricting out of school activities.

Many parents have asked how to help our schools, particularly with our full opening Monday at the K-8 level. I can request one thing that could help significantly.

The virus does not originate in our schools. It comes in from the community, and based on the local health district and our own findings, it is coming in as a result of informal gatherings where defenses are down and transmission occurs.

If community members truly want to help keep our schools open and safe then we would all restrict activity outside of school so that community transmission rates would recede and the virus would not enter our buildings. This would help more than any donation or other form of generosity.

Please keep your eyes on the forecast and have a restful weekend.

Roundup: COVID Spread, Book Sales, Westport Blanket, More


Yesterday, 2 officials advised Westporters about the rapid increase of coronavirus in town.

Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice said that while COVID cases have been discovered in the school population, administrators’ swift response to new cases has resulted in “little to no widespread COVID contamination.”

However, new cases require immediate attention, like quarantining and contact tracing. While the lack of spread demonstrates that the processes in place are working, the schools are continually challenged by new cases resulting from outside activities.

These include recent large gatherings, parties and sports activities involving students or parents. Photos and social media posts caused 1st Selectman Jim Marpe to ask Parks and Recreation director Jen Fava to consider reinstating earlier COVID-related policies at local parks, fields and recreation facilities.

Marpe says: “The ability for our schools to remain open for in-person learning is dependent on the actions of our entire community. I urge all residents to follow the appropriate public health protocols so that our community can remain open, but safe.

“Please refrain from contact sports, wear a mask, social distance, avoid gatherings and practice good hygiene. Residents are strongly urged to avoid gatherings where adherence to social distancing and mask wearing cannot be accomplished.”

Anyone awaiting test results, whether taken because of symptoms or COVID exposure, should not go out into the community until receiving those results.

Staples Players have done most rehearsals for their radio shows remotely. When they do get together, they are diligent about wearing masks. (Photo/Kerry Long)


The Westport Library’s Holiday & Winter Book Sale is always eagerly anticipated by gift givers.

The bad news: COVID-19 has knocked out in-person shopping. This year it’s all online.

The good news: It’s already there.

Fiction, mystery, arts, biographies, photography, cookooks, sci-fi, puzzles, kids’ books, plus CDs, puzzles an games — they’re all available from the comfort of home.

Click here to browse. All books are available for pickup by appointment at the library’s upper parking lot, 7 days after purchase.

New items are added weekly. So bookmark the page, and check back often.


Speaking of holiday gifts: This is my favorite so far.

Savvy + Grace — the wonderful, whimsical Main Street gift shop across from Rye Ridge Deli — sells some very cool Westport-themed items. What stands out is a fleece blanket, featuring an 1890s topographic map of the town.

Click here to check it — and much more — out. In-store shopping, curbside pickup and shipping are all available.

Savvy + Grace’s Westport blanket.


And finally … today is Friday the 13th. Just what we need in 2020!