District Gets into Nitty-Gritty for Greenwich Schools Reopening during Covid

On Monday night the Greenwich Board of Education held a meeting on Zoom where they delved into the nitty-gritty of schools reopening, which is about four weeks away.

All students will have the choice of attending in-school or learning remotely.

On Sunday Governor Lamont appeared on Face the Nation, where he noted Connecticut was one of the first states in the country to close schools in March. He said Connecticut has been very cautious in reopening its economy and has kept a very low infection rate, about 1%, which is one of the lowest in the country over the last 6 or 7 weeks.

“If Connecticut can’t get reopened, I don’t know who can around the country. We’re doing it led by public health – making sure everybody is wearing masks, making sure we have plexiglass where needed, and cohorting,” Lamont added. “We’re going to give our kids the best shot for in classroom education.”

“Directionally, we are where we need to be,” BOE chair Peter Bernstein said Tuesday morning.

“There is a natural apprehension about going into buildings with lots of different people when you’ve been told to stay home for months,” he said. “But if you look at the guidance from CDC and everywhere else, masks are quite effective. It’s about helping people get comfortable….Teachers are right to be concerned. We’re all concerned. You’re trying to plan for every contingency…We’re trying to do this in the safest manner possible.”

The schedules are available on the district website.

The idea is to be able to turn quickly to remote learning if there is a situation where a class, building or even the entire district needs to close.

In Greenwich, the district is planning to reopen in-person for grades K-8 and implement a hybrid model at GHS, where the 2,800 students will be divided into a Greenwich cohort and a Cardinals cohort (determined alphabetically by last name), with each attending school in person two days a week, either Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday, with Wednesdays being a deep cleaning day.

The focus during Monday night’s Zoom meeting, which was attended by about 245 people, was on scheduling and what the school day will look like.

Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones said schedules will be more structured for both students in buildings and remote learners than it was last spring.

Middle Schools

Gordon Beinstein, principal at Western Middle School, talked about middle school cohorting.

“One hundred kids will be together in the same 5, 6, 7 or 8 rooms all day together, and eating lunch with each other. They will travel to different classrooms for different levels of classes within those 100 kids, but they’ll stay in that group, pass at the same time with nobody else, and have a separate door to enter. They’ll have separate bathrooms. What happens after school is beyond our control.”

“We’ll also cohort teachers, so there is a limited number of adults who will also see the kids,” Beinstein explained. “The same 100 kids have the same gym teacher, music teacher and tech teacher.”

Mask wearing is mandatory for all students and teachers.

“If your kid is going to be a conscientious objector, you don’t want to choose the in-school option,” he said, adding that students will not use lockers,but rather carry backpacks within the building to decrease hallway congestion.

There is hand sanitizer in each classroom and outside each bathroom, and passing times will be staggered. Also, outdoor instruction will be encouraged, depending on weather. Lunch may even be outdoors.

The hallways have been lined so students will walk to the right of the line, including the stairs which are split down the middle. Buildings will be disinfected every evening and the cafeterias will be disinfected after each lunch wave. “That’s the only space that two cohorts might sit in the same day,” he explained.

Classrooms are all set up so that all students are facing forward about 4 ft apart. For the most part they will each have their own table, but where that is not possible, there are plexiglass dividers.

Beinstein said there will be no congregating before school.

“There is no hanging out any more. Doors open at 7:20am, and all students will go directly to their first block class. Teachers will be at different doors.”

Release time will also be staggered so different teams leave by different doors at different times, even though the buses depart at the same time.

There will be no late buses or after school activities to start the year.

Jason Goldstein, principal at Eastern Middle School talked about scheduling electives.

“The overall objective is to have a model so that if we shift from in person, to hybrid, to full remote, and return back to school, the same model works,” he said.

He said elective teachers will also be cohorting, though there will be no band or chorus offered. “Rather, they will have a general music appreciation elective,” he said.

Goldstein said PE will be held outdoors as much as weather permits, with an eye to social distance. Health curriculum may be embedded within PE.

Other electives will also be cohorted. Students will go through a rotation, and have art, for example, for 45-60 days, and then move on to the next elective for 45-60 days.

Mr. Goldstein said the middle school seminar elective will be eliminated, but some seminar activities will be embedded into ELA.

“It can’t be run as a separate elective because there aren’t enough available blocks in the day,” he explained.

Tom Healy, principal at Central Middle School said in person classes will look similar to the past, including the number of classes and their length.

“Should we have to shift to a remote learning situation, we’d be much more scheduled than we were last year,” Healy said, adding there are 7 periods a day, each about 45-50 minutes long. “As soon as we switch to remote learning, they’d still be interacting with those students and teachers – just in a virtual setting.”

Greenwich High School

“I think we’ve worked out a lot of our issues so far, but we still have a ways to go before we bring students back into the building,” said headmaster Ralph Mayo, adding that on Tuesday there would be a meeting about transporting students and bringing them in in waves.

Mr. Mayo said the plan is to maintain the existing eight-day rotating block schedule – 6 periods a day/drop 2.

“We wanted to make sure we were broadcasting live to one group of students while the other group of students was in school with us,” he said.

“At this point we’re talking about 1,400 students will be in school on Mondays and Tuesdays – the Greenwich cohort. And on Thursdays and Fridays we’ll have the Cardinal cohort in school with us,” Mayo said. “On Monday and Tuesday when the Greenwich cohort is in the building, the Cardinal cohort will be live streaming the schedule onto their Chrome books, and on Thursday and Friday the Greenwich Cohort will be home live streaming.”

On Wednesdays the entire high school will go to full remote, but it remained to be determined whether teachers will work from school or from their homes on Wednesdays.

The first block of the day (pink) is a little longer, 56 minutes, to allow for staggered arrivals of students, who will go to the part of the building closest to their first class.

Some outside doors will be open so students avoid going through the student center, which will be closed first thing in the morning.

Green blocks are 51 minutes. Lunch block is 55 minutes, plus a 30 minute lunch for everyone. Blue is Social Emotional Learning and a staggered exit of students. There will be 6 minutes of passing time between classes.

GHS hybrid model, 8 block schedule.
GHS remote Wednesdays.

The 9th grade orientation day on September 8 is split so the Greenwich cohort will be in the building in the morning and the Cardinal cohort will in the building in the afternoon.

Mayo said after school activities will be done remotely wherever possible and the CIAC is expected to make additional announcements on Wednesday.

Special Education

Mary Forde, head of Pupil Personnel Services, said as much as possible, students would stay with the services agreed in their “pre-pandemic IEP.”

Students will be served as much as possible in a cohort.

For preschoolers the cohort their classroom, in elementary school the cohort is their grade and in middle school the cohort is their team.

“In high school students, for special ed purposes, their cohort is the group of students that are in their academic lab or in the wellness center with them,” Forde said. “We’ll know to the maximum extent possible let parents know when a child is served outside a cohort. If for some reason they have to be in a situation where there are students in close proximity who are not in their cohort we’ll let them know. And if parents choose not to have that happen, we’ll make other arrangements.”

She said that given the cohort structure, there might be times when changes will be made to pre-pandemic IEP services, but any change made to the pre-pandemic IEP plan would go on a separate plan that would be shared with parents.

Forde said that to the extent possible students will be given disposable paper products. Anything not disposable, such as plastic items, will be stored in individual bins and cleaned after each activity.

Occupational and physical therapists will observe social distancing as much as possible.

“If they have to get closer than three feet, or put their hands on a child, they will be wearing masks, gloves and gowns, which would be disposed of after the session,” Forde said.

Since occupational and physical therapists see students across cohorts, they will change PPEs after every session.

At all schools, but particularly at GHS, they will try to have the therapists travel to the students so the students don’t walk through the building.

Forde said she anticipated all PPT meetings will be held remotely, except for unusual or extenuating circumstances.

“If we are still allowed to go forward with face-to-face instruction, we will continue with our evaluations,” Forde said. “We have sneeze guards purchased during the summer and ordered more, so that we will try to, as much as possible, stay three ft away, but if we need to get closer we will do that using the sneeze guards and fresh PPE will be provided after every session with individual students.”

In preschool, students will be served in the classroom. If they require direct instruction, that will take place somewhere within the classroom.

“We’re asking parents to please try and send their kids in manageable preschool closing. That means a minimum of zippers and ties and buttons, so that teachers don’t have to put their hands on kids, or do that as little as possible,” Forde said. “So, again, a pair of sweatpants, so when students have to be toileted, teachers don’t have to assist. We’re trying to minimize adult contact because every time an adult does get into direct contact with students they must be wearing gloves and gowns.”

Forde said there will be trash cans called “yuck buckets,” to place any item a student touches with their mouth or contacts with saliva from their hands. At the end of the day everything in the yuck bucket will be cleaned thorough and dried, and available the next day.

Speech therapists will only serve children in the individual building. “We will not have kids in private preschools around town coming into schools to get their services,” Forde said.

During discussion, board member Karen Hirsh asked about additional SEL support and support staff, especially for students with the most need.

Dr. Jones said the district has added a counselor at EMS, which was in the budget, and that the additional ALP staff, especially at the elementary level, will allow the general education classrooms to get down to very low numbers.

“That is benefiting every single child by getting the classes really tiny, so that we can start to fill some of those gaps in learning,” Jones said, adding that a tiny class allows for more social emotional learning.

“I want to make sure we’re giving the same kind of thought and support for the larger class sizes at middle school and the high school,” Hirsh said. “A lot of those class sizes are significantly larger than the largest of our elementary school classes – even if we’re only having half the students in.”

Hirsh said the Tropical Storm was a reminder about the fragility of infrastructure. She asked what was being done to help students with access to the internet.

Jones said by the time school closed in June, about 100 families without internet access were provided hot spots.

“I know with Covid we could have more families who lost their job, couldn’t pay for the internet, and we’ll continue to make that service available,” Jones said, adding that the district works directly with individual families.

Christina Downey asked what the instrumental band teachers will do, given it’s not possible to do live instrumental instruction due to health concerns.

Mark D’Amico, Director of Curriculum for K-8, said music and band teachers will be showing up for work the first day.

“They are anxious. We are trying to determine what is the best course of action for them,” D’Amico said. “Unlike the middle school model, we don’t have that music theory to explore as an option. It is a question we do need an answer for relatively soon.”

Peter Sherr asked for the numbers of staff returning to in-school teaching, and how may students had selected to attend school remotely.

“You’re hiding information from the board that you have. I don’t know why you are doing that. Why are you doing that?” Mr. Sherr asked.

Mr. Bernstein reminded Mr. Sherr of decorum rules.

Dr. Jones said numbers were still being crunched and estimated it would take about another week to share numbers.

She noted that while the district asked parents to submit their decisions by Aug 7, the tropical storm resulted in many families losing power and internet for several days. Jones said responses continue to trickle in.

Also, teachers are scheduling conversations with the human resources department to discuss accommodations based on their health or medical situations.

Peter Sherr expressed concern about remote learning.

“I made clear a long time ago my reservations about this model. Candidly, I need this model to work. ….The model, which is clearly centered around going back to school. We need that to work. If we have to go out, I’m uncomfortable with how well prepared we are,” Sherr said.

“We feel good about the model,” Jones said. “We’re ready to move forward and are thrilled about the work the principals are doing to get their buildings ready.”

The next BOE meeting is Thursday Aug 20 at 6:00pm. At that meeting the district should be able to share an update on reopening numbers including how many families have opted into remote learning and the number of teachers available.

The district is planning to host additional town hall format meetings about remote learning for elementary, middle, high school and possibly special education parents as the start of the school year approaches. Dr. Jones said she’d also like to organize a town hall event for students as well if time permits.