Keeping Schools Open as Pandemic Restrictions Tighten; Teachers Concerned Holidays Will be Spreader Events

The topic of keeping schools open for in-person learning in Greenwich during the pandemic has largely had parental support. Upwards of 80% of students returned this fall for in-person learning.

But lately teachers are pushing back.

At the Nov 18 Board of Education meeting, teacher union president Carol Sutton said while teachers were somewhat comfortable being in school in October, that had changed dramatically in the first two weeks of November.

“Trust in district leadership and morale are falling as fast as Covid cases in the area are rising,” Sutton said. “Teachers do not believe that Greenwich Public Schools are the safest place to be.”

“They also do not believe that Havemeyer, nor the board, nor many parents have a clear picture of what is going on in the schools day-to-day,” she added.

Sutton noted college students will soon return from near and far, and families with children will be traveling for the holiday for gatherings, and taking risks.

“Some will return infected. Will they be in school on Monday, Nov 30?” she asked. “Public health experts have said that starting with Thanksgiving, the holiday season has the potential to be a super spreader.”

She said teachers are “sickened that the administration has said emphatically that there will be no change in plans or pivot to remote unless directed by the Governor.”

She asked the board to encourage the administration to switch to remote learning during the holidays.

Diana Willie, a teacher from Western Middle School, testified during the public hearing portion of the meeting. She asked that more be done to protect teachers.

Specifically she asked for a better in person model for middle school, elimination of Wednesday meetings, more half days and stricter Covid policies.

“We teachers are overburdened, exhausted, overwhelmed and concerned with our health the safety of our families,” Willie said. “Too much is being asked of us, while too little has been taken off our plates. The lack of staffing due to quarantine protocols means we are covering other teachers’ classes, sometimes multiple times a day.”

“While teaching, I am not supposed to approach students or linger too long at their desks, yet my desk is just inches away from student work spaces because our school was not designed to accommodate social distancing in large numbers,” she said.

“At the end of each day I am mentally and physically exhausted, as are my colleagues all over the district,” she added. “I would like to invite any willing board member to come to my school and spend a day in my classroom.”

“I’d like for you to see what pandemic teaching looks like. Experience what it is like to teach two classes simultaneously – remote and in person – five times a day, wearing a mask, change to your Chrome book, afraid of infection and yet desperately trying to do your job.”

Diana Willie, Western Middle School teacher

In her superintendent’s update, Dr. Toni Jones said the district’s current decision making reflects input from specialists.

She said a recent email to families contained abundant information including about quarantining and cohorting.

“Right now our decision making is listening to specialists in the field,” Jones said, going on to list the CT Dept of Health and epidemiologist at the state level, plus Dr. Katie Noble who is a consultant to the district, Caroline Baisley, who is the Town’s Director of Health, and the district’s head of Nursing, Mary Keller, at the local level.

“It’s not just sitting and waiting on the Governor to say it’s time to close schools. We are listening to experts in the field. Had we not listened to those people, we also would not have opened.

We’ve used their guidance about closing, and we’ve used their guidance about opening – and we’re going to continue to do that.”

Dr. Toni Jones, Greenwich Schools superintendent

Later in the meeting Kathleen Stowe asked about the decision at Greenwich High School by the school administrators, not to have mid term exams.

Jones said that decision had been made by the administration at GHS.

“The stress of mid terms – and they feel like they actually gain instruction time back by not taking several days to do the mid terms,” Dr. Jones said.

In his de-brief following the meeting, BOE chair Peter Bernstein said while there had been positive cases among students, only one case reflected a transmission from within school.

“A lot of what we’re seeing is coming from outside activities including sporting activities and social gatherings,” he said. “The districts that have gone hybrid actually seem to have higher Covid rates than we have.”

Step Up CT

In his Monday, Nov 23 press conference, Governor Ned Lamont said while many college students will be coming home for several weeks, there are opportunities for them to volunteer to help keep schools open, serve patients and support Covid-19 testing sites.

He said college students should go to to learn how they can help out in Connecticut’s schools.

“Right now we’re finding, if schools have to close, the reason generally is not due to high positivity in the classroom,” he said. “In fact, the positivity rate does tend to be the lowest in the classroom.”

“But it does seem to reflect that sometimes staff have to quarantine. You have teachers who are older, teachers with a pre existing conditions. Those are places where we need people to step in,” Lamont added.

The Governor said college students with teaching or social work experience, are encouraged to go to to explore volunteer or possible paid jobs.

“As a senior in college, we may be able to find you paid work in some of our schools….You can help out in the classroom. Social-emotional and tutorial, and keeping an eye on the kids.”

Also, he said people with experience in health care were invited to assist. He pointed out taht doctors and nurses are working double shifts and experiencing exhaustion.

The initiative also seeks people to support testing sites, which are experiencing lines given more people are wanting to be tested.

“You can help administratively. You can help with the swabs,” he said.

On Tuesday, during a Yale New Haven Health System press conference, chief medical officer Dr. Tom Balcezak said he was concerned in the short term about staff and their fatigue, and rising Covid-19 numbers were adding stress to staff.

“Please stay home, mask. I’m worried this will have short term and long term consequences,” he said. “There have been articles about staff – physicians, nurses and others – who are retiring early, and leaving clinical practice. I’m worried about that.”

“Small gatherings can be super spreader events. This Thursday, Thanksgiving could be a spreader event,” Balcezak said. “It’s incumbent on all of us to make sure it isn’t.”

See also:

Greenwich, Darien Residents Say Doctor’s Fees Charged to Insurance Companies for Covid Tests Suggest Broken Healthcare System

Port Chester Deemed Orange Zone; Non-Essential Businesses, Schools Closed

Port Chester Schools to Remain on Full Remote Learning to Mid-January, 2021