While some school districts were dealing with outbreaks of the Wuhan coronavirus, prompting closures and distance learning protocols, the city’s schools chief is reporting things were going well. Superintendent of Schools Neil C. Cavallaro gave an upbeat report on the opening days of school throughout the system.
The Board of Education determined it would go with so-called “Plan B” in its reopening schedule, approved by the state. That has students having in-person classes five days a week, but only for half-day sessions. That plan will be in effect until state officials allow for other options.
As far as the opening week, Cavallaro was happy with the way events unfolded.
“Students were cooperative, following all of the new rules and protocols developed to keep them safe. Wearing masks wasn’t an issue, and buses with buses running below capacity, they were able to separate for each other,” he said.
Those new rules and protocols took into account social distancing, which limited class size, and also imposed strict limitations on mask use, allowing some breaks during the day.
While things went off successfully, there was one positive test, according to Cavallaro.
“We know of one case where a student who attended school tested positive shortly thereafter. The Health Department was made aware, and the student and anyone they came in close contact with was quarantined,” he said.
In order to limit classrooms to allow for distancing, the various buildings are using larger spaces, such as auditoriums and gyms for classes. Cavallaro said that gyms are being used in elementary schools, while middle and high schools are using auditoriums for things like choral groups and band.
“Those programs have to be adjusted given some of the risks involved like be close, wind instruments, and the possible spread of droplets through singing,” he said.
Cavallaro said the system is in weekly contact with state officials regarding the progression of COVID-19, and that protocols will be adjusted as required or recommended.
“Right now the state’s infection rate is one of the lowest in the country, and the numbers support in-school learning. I work closely with our local health department and receive weekly reports from the state,” he said. “We will monitor this closely and adjust as necessary. Who knows what the future will bring? I believe if everyone follows the rules both in and out of school, there’s no reason to assume we will have to go out again.”
Before schools opened last week, parents were given the opportunity to opt-out of classes. Cavallaro indicated about a quarter of parents chose to keep children in distance learning mode. But that is a fluid number.
“As a district, we are about 25% of students who have opted out. I am hearing from the school principals daily, however, that as word is getting out about the things we’ve done to prepare, more families are choosing to send their kids back to school,” he said.
The superintendent noted that as of opening day, Sept. 8, 5788 students were registered in the system, slightly down from last year’s closing number. He did say the high school registration is up, and attributes that to New Haven’s decision to stay closed through the first 10 weeks of the school year. Many city students go to magnate schools there.
Overall, the superintendent is hoping things remain steady, and the school year unfolds with no large difficulties.
“I believe the most important message I can give to families is if schools are to remain open, and students are to return to all normal activities which is so important, they must adhere to all recommended safety protocols outside of school; avoid large gatherings, wear masks, social distance, etc. Schools are a microcosm of the community, and we need everyone’s cooperation,” he said.