Greenwich Schools Superintendent ‘Town Hall’ on School Reopening Draws 900+ Attendees on Zoom

Greenwich Schools superintendent Dr. Toni Jones took to Zoom Thursday night for a “town hall” format meeting with the latest information on the fall public school reopening.

Elementary school and middle school families have the option of going back to school in person five days a week, or signing up for remote learning school, taught by a separate group of teachers.

Greenwich High School will offer a hybrid model for students seeking to return in person. Dr. Jones said it was as recently as this Monday that Governor Lamont said at a press conference that a hybrid model would be allowable. She had been concerned the hybrid model would be non-compliant since the directive was for a full return to in-school for those who wanted.

GHS is simply too big a school to follow social distancing recommendations, and cohorting is almost impossible as the block schedule is already so complex.

The GHS hybrid model separates the school into two groups – red and white. The red group will be in school on Monday and Tuesday. The white group will attend Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays will be a deep cleaning and sanitizing day in the building.

On the two days students not in the building they will stream into their classrooms.

An advantage of having students on campus two days, versus perhaps one week on and one week off, is that it gives a student five days at home afterward, which is typically the amount of time Covid symptoms develop.

The first week of school at GHS will have a modified schedule.

At its peak the town hall meeting was attended by over 900 individuals, and people submitted over 500 questions.

Dr. Jones went through several FAQs, including questions about disinfecting, which will be done every evening with a safe, non-toxic product that eradicates the virus.

Information about the product, “Pure San” (Hypochlorous Acid), is detailed on the schools website.

Jones said teachers will not be instructed to do “intense” cleaning, but rather 13 new, temporary custodial staff have been hired to do “vigilant disinfecting” throughout the day, and an intense cleaning at the end of every day. Jones said if both teachers and custodians were applying the product, there might be buildup.

“We really don’t want to have teachers and custodians spraying all day while students are learning,” she said.

That said, there will be hand sanitizing at every entry and exit point. All classes have hand sanitizers and wipes. Hand blow dryers in rest rooms will be turned off. Instead no-touch paper towel dispensers are installed.Also there will be tissue grabs outside each restroom door so no one has to touch the door handle directly.

There will be clear dividers (diagram below at bottom, left) that can be placed on a desk if, for example, two students sit opposite or next to each other at one table.

There will be plexiglass partitions with a pass-through openings (bottom, center) a teacher can put on their desk.

Floors are being marked with signage (bottom, right) to help students and teachers move through their buildings with social distancing.

Tables arranged for buddies in younger grades.

The younger students will sometimes work in groups. For example, there are round tables where two children will “buddy up.”

“We’ll make our best learning environment while maintaining safety aspects,” she said.

As for ALP, the advanced learning program, students who might only be in Math ALP will now be in ALP across the board, meaning they’ll be in ALP for math, science and ELA.

“If they qualify for one, they’ll be in ALP for the others,” Jones said, adding that helps bring down the number of students in other classes.

Jones said this will minimize travel in the buildings throughout the day.

To minimize sharing materials, the district will have additional materials so students don’t share items like markers or scissors.

The buildings will use auditoriums and media centers for instructional space, also to allow for the maximum spacing of students.

Jones said they are trying to keep classrooms to a max of 20 students and currently most have a max of about 18 or 19.

“We’re very pleased with where we are,” Jones said of enrollment numbers.

Still, families continue to enroll students, and if there is a spike resulting in a class with, say, 23 students, Jones said they would put them in one of the larger classrooms. For example, kindergarten classrooms are larger than upper grades in elementary school.

Students with support needs including 504, special education, and ELL students will receive services, but they might not look exactly as they did before. Individual arrangements will be made for those with the most unique learning needs.

Dr. Jones said masks with a section of clear plastic were popular in summer school and the district ordered 900, and hoped to order more.

Out of consideration for hearing impaired students, the district ordered a variety of masks including one with a plastic insert so students can see their teacher’s mouths, lips move, and even their smiles. Jones said there was great interest in this type of mask. The district has 900 of them and is looking to order more.

Mask wearing is required for all students in school and on the bus, unless they have a note from their doctor. Principals will schedule mask breaks. If students are not willfully adhering, they will be referred to school administration.

Jones said from a legal standpoint, the district is obligated to enforce mask wearing as a health and safety risk.

While the district was notified that pre-schoolers were not required to wear mask, in Greenwich the preschool is within a K-5 school, and therefore pre-schoolers will indeed be required to wear masks. Students will bring their own masks to school, which will reduce the risk of them getting their mask confused with someone else’s.

“We’ll have masks if someone forgets theirs, but we’re asking people to bring their own,” Jones said, adding that spare single-use masks will be available at entrances on schools and buses for someone anyone who forgets theirs.

What if someone tests positive? Nurse Mary Keller who is part of the reopen task force, said schools will not be doing Covid testing (only screening). Nor will they be taking student temperatures. Temperature checks were originally part of CDC guidelines, but that guidance changed.

“Especially with children, the temperature really isn’t something that gives you workable feedback,” Nurse Keller said. “They (children) don’t show the same kind of symptoms.”

If a student is positive, parents are asked to notify the school. Beyond that, a positive test result is reported to the State Health Dept, who in turn notifies the Greenwich Dept of Health, and the district would notify families in a health alert.

“If we have a student already at school and we suspect they might be positive we would maybe notify the local health department,” she said, adding that families are being asked to conduct a symptom survey daily, including whether they have had any exposure or traveled to a hot spot in the country. If the answer is yes to any of the questions, they ask that the student be kept at home.

If symptoms develop during the day at school, a student would go to the nurse, who will be in full PPE. The nurse will examine the student and call the parent right away and ask them to bring the child to their health care provider for final diagnosis. The parent would wait outside the building; the nurse walks the child out.

To return to school the student – or staff – will need a doctor’s note saying they’ve been examined and determined negative.

Unlike protocol in normal times, where people are encouraged to enter and exit through just one set of doors, buildings will utilize multiple points of entry.

“We may have teachers propping their classroom doors open so students don’t touch door knobs,” she said. “And we’ll encourage teachers to open windows.”

As for ventilation, all buildings are different, but the air conditioning units are all cleaned regularly and filters changed on a regular schedule. It is not possible to upgrade the filers, which are mostly rated 9 or 10 MERV, to a higher level without jeopardizing the equipment.

And while last spring the community used the term “distance learning,” the state changed the terminology to “remote learning.”

Families are asked to submit their decision between remote learning and in-school learning by Aug 7.

Jones said anyone who did not receive an email with a form to fill out on Thursday, which went out around 10:00am, to check their spam folders.

Anyone who did not receive the form should send an email to [email protected] with the name of the child, the parent email and name, and our team they resend a link to the form. Decisions are due by August 7. It is only necessary to complete this form to opt into the remote learning school. 

If they still can’t find the email, they can contact the district and have a form sent to them.

Once a decision is made, to move from remote learning to in-person learning the district will require a two week notice period, though it might happen sooner. Jones noted that there are 9,000 students in the district and many nuances to consider.

As for sports, Jones said CIAC is likely to make an announcement on Friday.

She said there were sports workout programs for team members this summer, though one group of 10 had to quarantine after a single positive test result.

“For the most part CIAC has felt fairly positive about what they’re seeing happening in the summer,” Jones said, adding that if CIAC allows a full team to be on campus for a practice, a student can come to school even if they are a remote learner.

Jones said parents had been asking if an entire school would close if a teacher tested positive. She said determining who must quarantine depended on variables including whether there was close contact, which is considered less than six feet distance and more than 15 minutes without a mask.

“You have to look and see the variables. Then you decide how many kids in the class of the whole class,” she said.

Jones said over the summer there had been a lot of training for remote teachers and there is an extra three days for professional development at the beginning of the school year.

Staff will be learning how to use new equipment including web cams, but the summer school staff have been helpful, having already had a successful remote learning in place.

Before school “early birds” and after school childcare will continue. “We know it’s essential for our families,” Jones said.

After school activities will be suspended, Jones said. “We’re trying to get the school day open and running okay. …We’re trying to be as slow and thoughtful as we can for entry.”

She said band and chorus will be taught before or after school, virtually, at least at the start the year, becasue blowing into an instrument and singing release particles into the air.

Doesn’t mean we’ll stay that way

Asked whether teachers will go on strike, Jones said she couldn’t speak for the Connecticut Education Association (CEA).

Earlier in the day the CEA organized a series of teacher car caravans to stress the importance of safety in school reopening.

Still, Jones said that in Greenwich teachers had been very supportive, especially of the GHS hybrid model.

See also:

Greenwich Teacher Car Caravan Calls for Safety, Equity, State Funding in Hartford’s Reopening Plans

July 30, 2020

Greenwich Selectmen to Form Building Committee for New, Greenwich High School Safety Entrance Vestibule

July 23, 2020

Greenwich Schools Dive Deeper into Fall Reopening Plans; School to Start after Labor Day

July 17, 2020

Greenwich Schools Covid Reopening Plan Starts to Take Shape

July 15, 2020