Greenwich Schools Chief: Covid Cases Trace to Ice Hockey, Basketball, Birthday Party – Urges Caution at Halloween

Covid was a theme during Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, starting with GHS student government leaders. Meredith Blanchard, senior class president said teachers were going above and beyond. Mark Chen, student body president said the first mass meeting of the year was held over Google Meet with over 80 student government members.

Mark said the occasional asynchronous Wednesday for GHS students was valuable for quality of life and mental health. “When remote, students are logged onto a Google Meet for six hours straight and must complete homework typically also online. The digital fatigue is certainly real and many of my peers have expressed experiencing vision strain and headaches.”

The teacher union president Carol Sutton, who represents 900 members, talked about adapting to the “new normal” and “digital fatigue.”

She said Greenwich Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones had asked in July if conditions related to Covid-19 remain the same as they were, how comfortable would they be working under the district’s current plan in their current assignment.

She said results were trending for the better. Those replying “not at all comfortable” was over 40% in July, Aug and Sept. Last week the percentage had declined to just 16.5%; and “very comfortable” had doubled from 10% to 20%.

“That’s good news for everyone, and a sign that preparations over the summer are paying off,” Sutton said.

However she added there were still concerns about ventilation, lack of social distancing in classrooms and indoor common spaces, and inconsistent communication about cases of the virus.

“We’re also asking for a district wide conversation on the best model for teaching and learning in the event that the district pivots to remote instruction for a prolonged period,” Sutton added.

Dave Walko, Co-President of GOSA, short for Greenwich Organization of School Administrators, said it was wonderful to see students come to school happy and eager to learn.

“Adjusting to our new reality and the start of school has been relatively seamless,” he said, adding that this week there had been a seamless transition from face-to-face to remote at several elementary schools due to classroom or grade level closures.

Julian Curtiss School decked out for UN Day. Thursday, Oct 22, 2020 Photo: Leslie Yager

Earlier in the day Jonathan Supranowitz from the district’s Communications Dept, confirmed that the 5th grade cohort at Julian Curtiss School was quarantined for that reason.

Also, on Oct 19, a student in the Greenwich Cohort at GHS, who was last in school on Oct 13, had tested positive. As a result, those students and a teacher who came into close contact were placed in quarantine after contact tracing.

Brian Peldunas from PTA Council said his group endorsed the GEA’s call for an improved health alert reporting, specifically daily centralized reporting available to all parents.

Currently the district’s Health Services Team shares weekly updates on total positive cases of COVD-19 by school and within Greenwich and Fairfield County on Fridays.

GHS PTA co-president Terry Lamantia thanked GHS head of school Ralph Mayo and the GHS faculty for creating a safe environment for students.

“While many students have adjusted to the new normal, there are still many who are struggling with remote learning, either on a part time or full time basis,” Lamantia said. “Our full time remote students are at a disadvantage, as they have a limited teacher relationships due to no in-person instruction.”

Lamantia urged the district to investigate funding of additional distance learning technology.

Greenwich Schools Superintendent Dr. Jones gave her Covid update.

“As of today, we have had 13 positive cases in the district,” she said. “After contact tracing, the cases have been attributed to outside events – mainly ice hockey, basketball and a birthday party.”

She said the district is working on updating the tracker to twice a week – on Tuesday and Friday – which allows them to make sure they’re posting correct data without false positives.

She shared a statement from the CT Dept of Health:

The experience in our state since school reopening began indicates that transmission has been a rare event inside of school buildings, even with communities with elevated transmission rates, likely due to the high level of planning and compliance with mitigation strategies designed to prevent transmission between individuals. The same level of planning and compliance is not necessarily in place in other settings outside of school buildings.

CT Dept of Health

Jones said that with Halloween approaching, people need to be very mindful.

“We know that we’re going to have social activity, but encourage our children to wear masks and have parents model that for children,” she said.

Jones said while reinforcing mitigation strategies was important because they are working, the district is also working to get more activities for students to keep school spirit alive across.

She said the GHS executive committee had some great ideas including a drive-by pumpkin carving event.

Also, she said the PTA is considering ways to provide curriculum enrichment, given that they can’t bring guests into the schools and children can’t go on museum visits.

Jones said there had been a lot of positive feedback on the remote K-5 school, and that this week the K-5 remote enrollment was down to 535 students and she anticipates that dropping to 517 next week.