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Region One plans for reopening unveiled

FALLS VILLAGE — Region One School District Interim Superintendent Lisa Carter spent the week presenting the school reopening plan to the Region One school boards — beginning with Sharon, North Canaan and Salisbury and Region One  on Monday, July 20. Falls Village met on Tuesday, July 21, and Cornwall and Kent met on Wednesday, July 22.

The state education department’s goal is to reopen schools as normally as possible for the 2020-21 school year. But as every school official from state education commissioner Miguel Cardona on down has emphasized, all reopening plans are subject to immediate revision depending on COVID-19 concerns.

Carter told the Sharon board that the decision to reopen on a mostly normal schedule came as a surprise. “We were expecting a hybrid model,” a mixture of online and in-person learning.

Carter and a large (more than 40 members) reopening committee of Region One staff,  health professionals, school board members and members of the community have been working against a July 24 deadline. 

The top priority for Region One is everyone’s health and safety, Carter said. 

Reopening schools will require the flexibility to change models quickly in response to changing circumstances.

Recognizing that the closing of schools earlier this year resulted in personal difficulties for everyone involved, assistance will be available.

And Region One intends to meet all academic expectations.

Carter explained how the schools will function (in accordance with state guidelines).

Maintaining social distancing and masks or face coverings are mandatory. Schools will practice “cohorting,” or keeping the same group of students together as far as possible. School buses will operate at close to capacity, with masks and social distancing.

But parents are urged to drive their children to school if possible.

At the family level, the number one rule is: If a child is sick, stay home. Parents are asked to perform a daily health check, including taking the child’s temperature.

Carter said it is better to err on the side of caution. “I don’t care if it’s a headache — if you feel ill, stay home.”

The same goes for faculty and staff: Stay home if feeling sick, and do a daily health check.

Everyone at school will be expected to perform regular hand washing or sanitization, to wear masks and maintain social distance.

Three possible plans

The plan anticipates three scenarios for school operations. In all cases Region One will work with the state Department of Public Health and the Torrington Area Health District to decide which scenario is appropriate.

The first is a relatively normal schedule, with up to100% attendance. This assumes minimal or no spread of COVID-19 and the mask, distance and cohorting regimen described above. Most sports and extracurricular activities will proceed, with precautions.

The second or  hybrid schedule comes into play if it is determined that there is moderate spread of COVID-19. The school schedule will be adjusted for the K-8 schools, with 50% of the students at the school building on any given day, and 50% working from home.  Wednesdays will be devoted to online or distance learning for students, instruction and professional development for teachers, and deep cleaning of school buildings for maintenance staff. In the hybrid scenario, sports and extracurricular activities are canceled.

Carter said the details of the hybrid model for Housatonic Valley Regional High School are still under discussion.

The worst-case scenario, in the event of high spread of COVID-19, involves closing school buildings — again — and shifting to all-distance learning.

In the event that someone at a school is found to be positive for COVID-19, parents and students can expect a short-term (two to five days) or longer term (up to 10 days) closure of the school building.

Support for all schools

Carter emphasized that the plan, while regional, is nonetheless designed so that school principals can adapt the plan to suit their schools.

Moving forward, Carter said she will stay in touch with all relevant state agencies and support the elementary school and high school principals with school operations. Scott Fellows and Jill Pace, the two interim assistant superintendents, will work on curriculum, technology, recruiting and training substitutes, and making sure all materials are available to all students.

Region One Business Manager Sam Herrick will be in charge of purchasing for personal protective equipment, processing funding requests, transportation and food services.

There are six towns in the regional school district: Cornwall, Canaan (Falls Village), Kent, North Canaan, Salisbury and Sharon. Each has its own elementary school; the six towns share the regional high school.

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