NEWINGTON - School will be back in session in September, but the picture will be vastly different.
Close to 20 percent of students do not plan to return to their school communities, instead opting for an online program being formulated according to a state order that districts provide this alternative option.
A survey conducted by Newington Public Schools this month indicated around 800 of the district’s 4,000 families are not planning on attending school in-person while the covid-19 pandemic continues.
“It’s pretty consistent with what other districts are hearing,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Maureen Brummett told the Town Crier this week. “We’ve heard from parents who may change their mind in August if covid rates continue to drop. Some parents want to know more about what our plan is before they decide.”
That plan is over 50 pages long and is due to the state Department of Education this Friday. It includes detailed summaries of how each component of the school day will be adjusted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among staff and students who return.
From their bus ride in the morning, to lunchtime, homeroom and physical education class, each part of the typical student’s school day will include new safety and wellness measures.
“We are making herculean efforts to keep everyone safe,” Brummett explained. “It doesn’t necessarily mean our plan is 100 percent fool-proof but parents can be assured we are following every protocol from the CDC, the state and the Central Connecticut Health District.”
Anytime they enter a classroom, students and faculty will be required to wash their hands with soap and water and clear their desk of germs with a sanitary wipe. Hallways will feature one-way traffic and lunchtime will be spread out around school buildings and even outdoors.
Younger students will transition class subjects with the same core group while Newington High School classes will be 30 minutes longer and occurring in sets of ‘A’ and ‘B’ days.
Many parents have indicated they will be driving their kids to school this fall, with about one-quarter fewer expected to ride the bus. Parent input has also led the districr to designate “mask breaks” each day, where students can enjoy a safe and socially distanced break from wearing their masks.
Staff are creating online curriculum for classes and grade levels, so students who remain home can continue the distance learning program similar to the one utilized last spring.
“We will essentially be running two school districts at the same time,” Brummett said.
She expects about 95 percent of staff to return. The remainder will be leading the online learning programs.
The first day of school was originally scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 27, but Brummett has asked the Board of Education to move it up to Monday, Aug. 31 to give staff a full week of professional development ahead of time.
Gov. Ned Lamont shortened the 2020-21 school year calendar from 180 required days to 177.
Newington’s first week back will feature four shortened days Monday to Thursday. The Friday before Labor Day weekend is being considered a school vacation day.
“We want the kids and teachers to be able to ease into all these new requirements and learn how to navigate all the changes,” Brummett pointed out. “The shortened days will allow us to have faculty meetings to troubleshoot and have good conversations about how it’s going.”
After Labor Day, students will return full time with the new pandemic-era adjustments.
Staff expect some families to change their minds about sending their kids back or opting for the online curriculum.
“Parents have the right to change the model they are using,” Brummett said.
Finally, all is subject to change. If covid-19 rates spike suddenly or the illness is identified among members of school communities, there may be other courses of action.
Once finalized, Newington Public Schools’ reopening plan will be made available to the public.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at email@example.com.