Tag Archives: Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice

Board Of Ed Meeting: Masks, Money And More

C. Chien covered last night’s Board of Education meeting for “06880.” She writes:

Last night’s Board of Education meeting primarily addressed the upcoming budget and COVID-19-related issues.

Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice began the virtual session by emphasizing that there is no shortage of masks in the schools, thus no need for donations from parents and community members. However, donations will be taken at the central office only, to increase the stockpile.

Scarice then emphasized that the flexible Absent In-Person Present Online (APO) attendance option the schools implemented in response to the pandemic — initially intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 if any student experienced symptoms — is being abused. There are reports of students going on vacation, and that attendance on assessment (test) days drops significantly.

“Absent In-Person Online” attendance — designed for students who feel sick, and are encouraged to study online for the day — is being abused, school officials say. 

This leads to “material disruption” in the school environment. Scarice noted there may be changes to the policy.

After updates on the Youth Arts Collaborative program in the elementary schools, and on statewide COVID-positivity rates, the bulk of the meeting focused on items being considered for budget cuts in the 2021-22 school year.

Budget discussion focused on the potential implementation of a pay-to-play fee policy for sports. That model is used in towns including Weston, Wilton, Darien, Ridgefield, Trumbull, Avon and Simsbury, but not in New Canaan, Fairfield or Greenwich.

There was discussion too of eliminating the grade K-2 world language program. Board members questioned what would replace it, and whether that would be of benefit to the students.

Much of the public comment on the budget focused on the elimination of certain administrators in the schools.

On the slate for potential cuts are grade level assistants at Staples High School, the reduction of 1 full-time paraprofessional per school at the elementary level, and the reduction of one full-time assistant principal at Kings Highway and Saugatuck Elementary Schools, to match the numbers at Coleytown and Greensn Farms Elementary Schools. Public comment emphasized the impact this cut may have on students with special needs.

The board made no final decisions. Budget discussions will continue at further meetings.

Westport Schools’ Full-Time Reopening Set

Elementary and middle school students will return full-time to their buildings on February 1. Staples High School will follow soon after.

That’s the word from Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice. He says:

This school year has been a physical, emotional and psychological test of our collective endurance. We close out the first half of the school year at the end of this month. In the midst of the uncertainty and episodic chaos, I hold a very optimistic perspective for the second half of the school year.

What’s Next
As I shared with the parent community on December 22, I recommended a cautious approach to our school reopening this year.

However, based on 4 months of experience in preventing virus transmission in our buildings, and the similar success of peer districts in our region who have fully reopened, along with the reopening of Coleytown Middle School, I began conversations intended to increase access to on-site schooling for the second half of the school year. These discussions included a full reopening of on-site schooling for all K-8 students, and increased access for on-site schooling at Staples….

We have remained on the course I illustrated for the school community on December 22. There is a great deal of work that has been done, and continues to be done, to safely welcome our students back for additional on-site schooling.  However, we remain on the timeline shared on December 22.

The “Why?”
Those who serve our students, namely our faculty and support staff, are the reason for our success. Our collective support of these professionals is critical to the success we have enjoyed for decades. Yet as a system, our primary mission is to serve and develop our students. In the course of this work, challenges emerge in an ordinary year.  In a pandemic the challenges grow exponentially.

As a community, we are faced with obvious public health obligations to ensure that we are responsibly doing our part as a school system to minimize virus transmission. However, we are also obligated to balance our public health responsibilities with the perhaps less obvious risks that have impacted our children as a result of the reduction of on-site schooling.

The academic, social/emotional, and psychological impact on our students is not captured each evening on the news in cases per 100,000, or in positive test rates.  Yet the impact is real, consequential, and warrants mitigation.

It is time to move to bring these two obligations a bit more into balance.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

In October, the district partnered with the Tri State Consortium and conducted focus groups with almost 250 teachers, students and parents to identify critical problems for us to solve this year as a result of delivering a pandemic education.

Many of the problems that were identified can be addressed, in part, through greater access to additional on-site schooling.

The lack of connections with peers and adults, the academic struggles, and the ongoing challenge of engaging students can all be tempered with additional on-site schooling. This move will not eliminate these problems, nor will it eliminate the profound social/emotional and psychological issues that have emerged for some children, but it will ease the effects on the children we serve.

The benefits full on-site schooling are so important, particularly after long periods of remote and hybrid instruction this year and last year, that bringing our responsibilities to public health and our students into balance is warranted.

With less pandemic experience in the fall, I was less inclined to increase the levels of on-site schooling, particularly at the elementary level which provided an “everyday” model. A move to a “pandemic classroom” was not warranted given the uncertainty of the coming months in the fall.

That said, given our experience since then, and the experience of our peers in the region, along with the significant benefits of full on-site schooling, in my judgement it is time to begin this transition.

The Transition Process
Elementary Schools
The transition to full time on-site schooling will begin with a full asynchronous remote day for all elementary students on Wednesday January 27 in order to provide teachers the time needed to accommodate their classrooms for full enrollment.

A special 2-day transition schedule (January 28 and 29) will be shared next week by the elementary principals to their school communities which will illustrate how they will gradually welcome back their entire student body, with the first full K-5 day of on-site schooling scheduled for the first day of the second half of the school year, Monday February 1.

From that point forward, elementary students will engage in full school days, with changes made to arrival/dismissal, bus seating assignments, lunch, and recess.  The principals will communicate this information, and more, to their families in the coming days.

Given the need for our elementary faculty to deliver their instruction in a pandemic setting, and all of the professional challenges associated with this, like most districts in our region, Wednesdays will remain an on-site half day for students. Afternoons will be reserved for teachers to work with colleagues as they continue to solve instructional problems unlike any they have experienced in their careers as a result of COVID-19.

Greens Farms and 4 other elementary schools will reopen full-time on February 1.

Lunch will be served in homerooms and efforts will be made to “de-densify” the classrooms where appropriate when serving lunch by accessing other areas of the school building.

A parent survey is forthcoming which will gather information on any changes in distance learning requests from parents and transportation intentions (i.e bus or bring your child to school).

The distance learning option will remain for students and this program will be largely unchanged, providing consistency for this population of students.  More information about the distance learning option will be provided by the elementary principals in communication to their families.

Middle School
The middle schools will also transition to full time on-site schooling on the first day of the third quarter, February 1. The middle schools will transition the first phase during the month of February and the second phase on March 1.  Phase 1 will have all students return in person for full day instruction on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, while maintaining the existing Distance Learning half-day schedule on Wednesdays (February 3, 10 and 24 only).  Phase 2 will commence on March 1 with students attending school in person all 5 days, eliminating the Distance Learning Wednesday….

A parent survey is forthcoming which will gather information on any changes in distance learning requests from parents and transportation intentions (i.e bus or bring your child to school).  Distance learners at the middle school level will continue to have access to live streaming.

Coleytown (above) and Bedford Middle Schools will also reopen full-time on February 1.

High School
Like the elementary and middle school levels, the Staples team has also developed plans for an increase in on-site schooling for students. However, given our tragic loss last week of a senior and the impact on the school of working with students to process the events at the nation’s capital, for good reasons, the Staples plans are a week or so behind schedule.

In full candor, my expectation last week was that the Staples team would fasten their attention to the work of supporting students and staff as a result of a heartbreaking loss to the school community.

That said, it is expected that these plans will be reviewed and considered for implementation in the coming weeks. The perhaps less obvious effects of the pandemic (social/emotional, psychological) have hit our high school population particularly hard and we have an obligation to respond. I am confident that we will.

Staples High School will reopen full-time shortly after the other schools. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

The Unintended Consequences
Along with perhaps lessening the negative academic, social/emotional and psychological effects of the pandemic on our students, there will be some unintended consequences.  With more students on site it is very likely that we will see increased numbers of students and staff recommended to quarantine in light of being considered a close contact to a positive case.

Additionally, it is also likely that in some instances, a full, temporary school closure might be warranted in response to a positive case that includes many close contacts. Staffing our schools has been a challenge, and that challenge has the potential to grow during full on-site schooling.

We expect an increase in the number of distance learners, as this has been the case with our regional peers. Districts in the region that have successfully transitioned to full on-site schooling have reported a 5%-10% increase in distance learners at the outset of implementing full on-site schooling.

Finally, our buses will likely see more students on board. Vigilance in mask wearing on our buses, and in all settings will be critical to our continued success.

Final Note
As I shared on December 22, given the performance of public schools across the state, and here in Westport, I am confident that our resilience will continue to maintain high levels of safety for staff and students. It is clear that with continued vigilance in mask wearing, schools can remain resilient while serving more on-site learners safely. Of course, for this school year all parents will be afforded the right to distance learning for their child.

Communication throughout the system will be essential to making appropriate changes as necessary. We will continue to monitor our performance and the effectiveness of our safety measures. In response, we reserve the right to make programmatic adjustments along the way.

You can expect building principals to follow up with families in the coming days as we prepare for this change in learning models.

Marpe, Scarice Address Capitol Attack

In response to yesterday’s insurrection at the US Capitol, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe said:

As the chief elected officer of Westport, to watch the behavior and the blatant abrogation of responsibility by the Chief Elected Officer of the United States was discouraging and disgusting.

I am embarrassed for our country. Thankfully, as a community, our local elected officials regularly participate in a civil and respectful process that gives me hope and confidence that our democracy can and will survive.

In addition, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice wrote to parents:

I watched the events at the Capitol today with utter disbelief and abject sadness.  By now I’m sure you’ve read countless comments and reflections about the lawlessness and violent attack on our democracy incited by the reckless behaviors and comments of some of our elected officials, including our sitting President.  All I can add to this commentary is my condemnation.

My purpose for addressing the school community is to reassure parents that our team will be ready to receive our students Thursday and serve them in the most professional manner. This is our calling, among the noblest of professions.

Our team is working this evening to make certain that faculty and staff have resources assembled to support their work tomorrow and beyond. Each building principal will meet with faculty and staff to prepare them for the day. Highest among our priorities is to assure each child that they are safe in the school environment.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

Each level will work to maintain an age-appropriate approach. The elementary level will not initiate group discussions on this topic but will be responsive to individual students as the need arises. We cannot make assumptions about how parents prefer to approach such topics with our youngest learners. As a result, we will be responsive in nature. If conversations and questions persist, and an elementary teacher needs to briefly address the class, parents will be informed so that they can appropriately follow up with their child.

The middle school level will address the events of the day in their social studies classes, primarily with a civics lens. It is likely that middle school students have encountered a good deal of unfamiliar historical and political language today related to the process of certifying the election, and the manner in which the behaviors at the Capitol have been characterized by the media, and also social media.

Additionally, the natural inquisitive nature of early adolescence typically sparks dialogue about current events. Our social studies teachers are being provided with tools and resources to facilitate discussions while providing context for our students to comprehend the events of the day, and the implications as we move forward. Any student in need of additional intervention will be addressed through our support staff at the middle school level.

The high school level will also address these events in social studies classes.  Teachers will facilitate the discussion as students generate the questions. Our high school students are close to voting age. Among the relevant topics for classroom discussions are the process of elections, the constitutional role of Congress in presidential elections, and the idea that the events that transpired today are more about our democracy than politics. Alternative spaces will be provided for students during lunch waves and throughout the day to provide support when needed on an individual basis.

This is an emotional time and there will be a range of strong feelings from anger to sadness and fear. There will also be a great deal of confusion on the part of our students. Our high school community is just beginning to grieve the loss of a beloved classmate and the lingering emotional impact of the pandemic remains.  We will aim to validate our students’ feelings and questions, while doing our best to work through some very complex issues.

These strong feelings will be experienced by both students and adults. In my experience, these are the times when the humanity of our work intersects with our professional responsibilities. We are an organization composed of people and we bring all of our strengths and imperfections to our work every day. We will not be perfect, but we will answer the call and bring our professional best to serve your child tomorrow and beyond.

Schools Are One Step Closer To Full Reopening

Since September, the Westport Public Schools have operated on a hybrid model since September. Some students learn in school each day; some learn at home. 

This morning, in an email to parents, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice gave an update. Schools have not proven to be the vectors of COVID transmission many expected, he notes. In fact, they are some of the safest places during the pandemic.

Next month, administrators will begin exploring options for returning more students to school, more of the time. Scarice says:

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone the very best during the holidays, and a very happy new year. This has clearly been a year like no other.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

I shared with the faculty and support staff during my opening address in September that in my research, I’ve found that the very best organizations are marked by a culture where each individual can count on each other.  This year I’ve found that to be the case right here.  Look to your right, look to your left and you’ll find someone on the team that you can count on.  If this is the culture during a pandemic, I can assure you that there will be no limit to what we can accomplish as a school system.  We can, and should, have a bold vision for our schools in the post-COVID world.  This energizes me a great deal.

As I shared Monday at the Board of Education meeting, I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit math classrooms at Staples a couple of weeks ago. I was humbled by the work of our faculty in leading classroom instruction this year.  This morning I got a tiny window into the burdens of “Zoom instruction” as I struggled to engage a class of kindergarteners in my read-aloud of “The Gruffalo.” Not my finest moment, but being in the presence of our students is where I find such purpose and fulfillment. I hope Mrs. Sweeney was able to clean up my “digital mess” afterwards!!

At the expense of sounding gratuitous, I see the work of our faculty and support staff this year as nothing short of remarkable. Yet, just over the horizon I can begin to see us starting to turn the corner. With our team and the support of our parents and community I am beyond enthused about the second half of our school year!!

What’s Next?
Take a look towards the horizon and the immediate future and you will see that vaccines are on the way, new testing technologies are arriving regularly to communities, and treatments for the virus have advanced well beyond the approaches of last spring.

Locally, like countless other school districts, we have demonstrated incredible resilience in preventing virus transmission in our schools. I was told earlier in the fall that the safest place in our communities outside of our homes is in a public school. I found this unbelievable at the time. But now, based on almost 4 months of experience and the vigilance of everyone in our schools, I believe this to be true.

I have recommended a cautious approach to the reopening of our schools this year. However, a great deal has changed over the past 9 months. Perhaps most profound for schools is that high community transmission rates have had little impact on school-based virus transmission.

What’s confounding is that community transmission rates were initially identified as the primary driver affecting the reopening of schools among public health experts, including the Harvard Global Health Institute which guided Connecticut’s efforts. In fact, just last week, Tom St. Louis, occupational health program director for the Connecticut Department of Public Health, concluded in a statement to superintendents that the high rates of spread in communities are not translating to similarly high rates of transmission in schools. He acknowledged that most experts did not know this would be the case when guidance was provided over the summer.

Population density is a factor in mitigating spread, thus the reason for hybrid models this year. Yet, there is ample evidence across the state of minimal to no virus spread in schools with greater population density than the current levels in our schools.

This track record of remarkable resilience, along with the timing of the reopening of Coleytown Middle School, and with the critical need to balance our responsibility to public health with the social/emotional/academic wellness of our students, has led me to begin conversations about engaging in additional reopening efforts for the second half of January, including a full reopening of on-site schooling for all K-8 students.

Coleytown Middle School’s renovation is nearly complete. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

When We Return January 4, 2021
We will begin the New Year in the current hybrid model beginning on January 4. However, we will monitor the conditions around us, and within our schools, in an effort to begin to possibly open our schools for full on-site instruction at the K-8 level later in the month. Additionally, we will look to broaden access to Staples for more on-site instruction for all learners, beyond those identified as “at-risk.”

I have asked the administration from each of the three levels to have plans ready for my review by the end of the first week of January in anticipation of implementation for the second half of the month. Specific plans and dates have yet to be identified. This information will be forthcoming shortly thereafter.

Given the performance of public schools across the state, and here in Westport, I am confident that our resilience will continue to maintain high levels of safety for staff and students. It is true that it will not look like our classrooms prior to the pandemic and that a return to a “pandemic classroom,” particularly at the elementary level, was not optimal as rates sharply trended in the wrong direction in October and November. I stand by the prudent approach I recommended in the fall. Yet since then, we have learned more and more about schooling during the pandemic.

It is clear that with strong mitigating measures, particularly fidelity to mask wearing, schools can remain resilient while serving more on-site learners safely.  When we return, we will begin the process of planning for more on-site learners in earnest for the second half of the school year which begins later in January.

Of course, for this school year all parents will be afforded the right to distance learning for their child.  We will continue to serve our students in this arena and seek to continually improve our practices in remote instruction.

Until then…
As I shared with the faculty earlier, we have an opportunity to take a break from perhaps the greatest professional challenge we will face in our careers, an eleven day respite. For all of us, this should be time to reconnect with our families and friends in safe ways. Perhaps some Netflix viewing (if so, you must watch “The Social Dilemma” with your teens), some unwinding, and some time to unplug.  Whatever may come over the break, I have complete confidence that we will turn a corner to a positive horizon in due time.

Snow Day!

Yeah, we know it’s gonna snow tonight.

Now we know that Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice does not subscribe to the let’s-wait-and-see school of snow closing thought.

He’s a realist — and he too really likes snow days. He writes:

With the strong likelihood of a major winter storm tomorrow, I would like to inform the school community that the Westport Public Schools will be closed Thursday, December 17.

This will be a traditional snow day which will be made up at the end of the school year. The schools will reopen Friday as scheduled. If the clean up efforts require a second day, Friday will be a full remote learning day.

The anticipation and excitement of a snow day is something that every child should experience. Soak it up.

As a fellow parent I feel the fleeting nature of time with my own children. The challenge of this year warrants a respite. Let this be Thursday.

The forecast calls for about a foot of fluffy snow to end by mid-morning.  Bundle them up and let them all (elementary through high school) get out and enjoy one of the few days a year that we get for winter fun in southern New England.

Stay safe and warm.

Winslow Park snow day, March 4, 2019. (Photo/Molly Alger)

Scarice: There Will Be Snow Days!

Today’s “06880” Roundup — posted at noon — posed this question: Couldl Wednesday’s predicted heavy snow, strong winds and coastal flooding lead to a snow day? 

Or, in our new COVID world, will Westport school’s simply shift to all-distance learning?

I should have checked my email.

About 5 minutes earlier, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice anticipated — and answered — my question. He wrote:

I want to provide an update to the school community on snow days this school year. Of course, after a 60 degree day yesterday, we are looking at a significant snowstorm late Wednesday into Thursday.

On October 7, 2020, for the 2020-2021 school year only, the Connecticut State Board of Education approved the use of a remote learning day in lieu of a traditional snow day. Traditionally, snow days are required to be made up at the end of the school year. Remote learning days are not required to be made up at the end of the school year.

Westport youngsters enjoy a 2019 snow day at Winslow Park. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

In reviewing the parameters of our current school calendar, if there are more than 4 snow days this year, the district is required to use the April vacation as makeup days beginning on Monday April 12. I would like to avoid encroaching on the April vacation, and I would like to ensure with some certainty that the school year will conclude by June 23 at the latest.

Additionally, I may be a purist but I do believe that for most children, the experience of a snow day can be an unforgettable part of childhood and a unique opportunity for unstructured play.

For these reasons, the district will allow for only 3 traditional snow days that will be required to be made up in June. Any additional snow days beyond 3 will be remote learning days that will not be required to be made up in June.

There is 1 additional day built in that will serve as a buffer in the event power outages require a school cancellation.

Snow day! (Photo/Irene Penny)

Finally, and critically important for planning, we will not have “back to back” snow days in the event that snow clean up requires a second straight snow day.

If a second straight snow day is required, we will conduct a remote learning day on the second day. This might be the case this Friday if the forecast continues to project snowfall well into Thursday. Please plan accordingly.

It is likely that we will experience power outages. In the event of widespread power outages we will have to cancel school if the roads are not safe. However, we will conduct remote learning in the event of minimal outages.

Due to transportation issues, 2=hour delayed openings and early dismissals as a result of inclement weather will cancel either the AM or PM elementary session respectively.

For clarity, the approach to snow days can be summarized as follows:

  • No more than 3 snow days this year

  • Remote learning will be conducted beginning with the fourth snow day

  • An additional day has been built in beyond the 3 snow days to preserve April vacation and the end of the school year no later than June 23

  • There will be no back to back snow days for the purposes of snow clean-up on the streets

  • There will be power outages; however, if the outages are minimal, we will hold remote learning days after 3 snow days

  • A  2-hour delayed opening or an early dismissal will cancel the AM or PM elementary sessions

As circumstances emerge and evolve, we will make changes accordingly.

Our schools look very different this year. Thankfully — and thank you, Tom Scarice! — the sacred tradition of snow days remains.

Will Staples High School look like this on Thursday?

Superintendent Scarice: Mitigating Measures Work

Today, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice updated the community on Westport Public Schools’ immediate future, quarantine practices, supports for quarantined students and distance learners, transportation, travel guidance and COVID reporting.

He also added a few personal thoughts on what we might expect over the horizon. He wrote: 

The Immediate Future
As projected in October, community infection rates increased sharply over the past month. Meanwhile, our schools have shown a remarkable resilience in halting any spread of the virus in our buildings. I am confident that vigilance in maintaining our mitigating measures (i.e. masks, distancing, hand hygiene, etc.), as well as keeping the density of our schools at 50% capacity, have ensured this measure of success.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

We have identified nearly 80 positive student and staff COVID-19 cases in our schools since September. As a result, nearly 1,500 students and staff have been asked to quarantine.

Yet there has been little to no spread of COVID-19 once positive cases have been identified in our schools. The lack of positive COVID-19 tests of those in quarantine is affirmation of our ability to halt the spread of the virus once it enters our schools.

We will return to on-site schooling in the hybrid model on Monday (November 30) at all of our schools. There will be just over three weeks until our next break beginning December 24. As I mentioned in my last message to the school community, I see this year in 4-6 week increments.

Public health experts project high transmission rates until the start of the new year. It is critical that parents and those in the community partner with us to maintain the same vigilance that is evident in our schools in order to keep our schools open for on-site schooling. An outbreak of the virus, or staffing challenges, can put all of our schools into a fully remote model.

Sharpening Our Quarantining Practices
Quarantining is a necessary mitigating measure in preventing the spread of COVID-19 once a positive case has been identified. As the number of positive cases dramatically increased over the past few weeks in our community, placing Westport into the high risk category, we took a conservative approach with our contact tracing efforts in the schools. This approach led to recommended quarantines for large numbers of staff and students.

Again, our mitigating measures have been extremely effective resulting in a very limited number of positive cases through in-school transmission. This fact is most significant. In reviewing data related to the number of quarantines associated with close contacts in our schools,  it has been determined that spread in our schools has been extremely rare.

Despite the “second wave,” in-school transmission of COVID-19 is very rare at Staples High School, and throughout Westport.

For example, of 508 classroom exposures recorded at Staples High School through November 23rd, only one is believed to have led to an additional positive case within the school. This success in controlling the spread of COVID-19 allows us to modify our current approach to contact tracing, specifically in the middle and high school, which will help limit the number of students and staff needing to quarantine.

With support from the Westport/Weston Health District, and our medical advisor, Dr. Norman Weinberger, we intend to take a more precise approach when determining “close contacts” and recommending a self-quarantine.  These changes will be in effect after we return from the Thanksgiving break.

Instructional Support for Distance Learning and Quarantined Students
As the number of students in distance learning and quarantine increased, new challenges were posed for our school district. I suspect we would have concluded last summer that an increase in distance learners (i.e. from 168 in K-5 on October 30 to an anticipated 207 on November 30) and those in quarantine would coincide with a move to fully remote instruction. However, given the resilience demonstrated by our schools, and the encouragement of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, our doors remain open for on-site schooling in the hybrid model.

In order to address the number of students in need of instruction in distance learning or quarantine, I am very pleased to share that we have secured the services of multiple certified teachers to provide support for these programs.  These resources should be in place to start following the Thanksgiving break.

The provision of transportation is guaranteed for each public school student.  However, given the complexity of transportation during the pandemic we encourage parents to transport their children to and from school whenever possible. Decreasing density on our school buses will minimize the need to quarantine students when a positive case is identified on a bus. Of course we will continue to transport all students in need of transportation.

Socially distanced school buses (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Travel Guidance
Travel guidance has been issued. Interstate and international travel is forbidden without following the guidelines. Failure to comply with Connecticut’s travel policies (https://portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus/travel) may result in a civil penalty of $500 for each violation.  Please take this seriously and adhere to the guidelines issued by the CDC and Connecticut Department of Public Health.

COVID-19 Reporting Hotline
As a reminder, we have developed a COVID-19 reporting hotline to report positive cases only. The number is  (203) 341-1016. Also, an email can be sent to PositiveCovidReport@westportps.org.  If your child has tested positive for COVID-19 please use one of these two methods to communicate to the schools.  You may also contact your school nurse for any follow up information. See this link for more information.

Over the Horizon
As challenging as this year has been, and as dark as it is expected to get over the next 8 weeks or so, I am more optimistic now than I’ve ever been about our future.

Although we have used rather primitive methods to confront this pandemic (i.e. physical distance, masks, etc.), the ubiquity of biotechnology breakthroughs is close to catching up. Treatments have emerged for those infected. Proactive surveillance testing is becoming a reality, and not just for the NBA and the most exclusive colleges and private schools. Vaccines are racing towards the finish line with success rates that match the aspirations and hopes of recent biotechnology promises.

With that, I would like to bring your mind to the other side of this pandemic, which could be within reach in a matter of months. Although I do not expect a “war is over” declaration, I do anticipate that these breakthroughs will conspire with our collective purpose to turn our exclusive attention towards the work of teaching and learning, towards the work of preparing all learners for the challenges of the modern world, and towards building a system that enables all students to thrive and make positive contributions to their world.

A return to “normal” school could be oaround the horizon.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, for this reflective moment, for this optimism, I am most grateful.

In closing, I’d like to share one of my favorite pieces on the purpose of education. As you contemplate the other side of this pandemic and a potential renewed vision of our schools, may these words rise within you and inspire you to action.

In 1947, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote this essay for his school newspaper at Morehouse College. Although published nearly 75 years ago, it rings as true today as it did then.

Have a restful and peaceful Thanksgiving,
Tom Scarice

Schools Superintendent Updates The Community

Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice is conducting a master class in communication. Today he provided these updates to the community:

COVID Update
On October 13 I shared with the community that the public health experts we consulted projected a significant spike in rates of infection in the subsequent 4-6 weeks. The following chart of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people illustrates the fulfillment of those projections. 

As the rates of positive COVID cases increase in the community, cases enter our schools.

However, since we returned in September, we have been able to mitigate the spread of the virus, maintaining safety in our schools.

That said, I cannot say the same for other settings in the community. In full candor, the ability to maintain in-person schooling is largely dependent on the vigilance of the community to apply the same mitigating measures your child experiences each day in school.

Our cases are widely related to lapses in the community. Local public health experts are not reporting widespread outbreaks in schools, but they are uncovering outbreaks in informal settings (e.g. youth sports, informal gatherings/parties, car pools, etc.).

This is not intended to cast aspersion on such activities, but only to implore those in the community to support our efforts in anticipation of a long winter confronting this pandemic. We will continue to work as vigilantly as we can to enforce our measures as well.

Staples High School On Full Remote Through Thanksgiving, Bedford and Coleytown Middle Schools Return to Hybrid Monday November 16
Due to a staffing shortage as a result of significant quarantines, Staples, Bedford and Coleytown Middle were all placed on remote learning for November 12 and 13.

Staples will remain on remote through Thanksgiving, and the middle schools will return to the hybrid model on Monday November 16. Click here for full details.

How Do Mitigating Measures Work?
At the expense of oversimplifying the use of mitigating measures, perhaps this graphic captures it best from the Cleveland Clinic.


Can My Child Get a Negative COVID Test to Return to School From Quarantine?
No. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. During this time, even after a negative test, you may develop symptoms and become infectious within this 2-14 days time frame after exposure. This is based on consistent guidance from the CDC and the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

Can My Child Return to School After a Positive COVID Test if They Subsequently Get a Negative PCR Test?
No. A student can return to school 10 days after the onset of symptoms or 10 days after the date of the positive test. A subsequent test does not negate a previous positive test.

Does My Child Need a Negative COVID Test to Return After a Quarantine Period?
No. If your child does not develop symptoms they may return to school after the 14 day quarantine period. If your child does develop symptoms, it is best to have your child see their pediatrician.

Next Steps
We will continue to monitor our ability to mitigate virus transmission in the schools and maintain our staffing levels so that we can receive students on-site safely. However, it is possible that an intermittent or extended remote learning period may be implemented if necessary for our schools.