‘This was no easy or simple task’: Trumbull schools cope with reopening challenges
TRUMBULL — The first day of an unprecedented school year went about as well as could be expected, Interim Superintendent Ralph Iassogna told the Trumbull Board of Education Tuesday night.
Addressing the board at its regular meeting just hours after schools had dismissed for the day, Iassogna said that while the day had not been perfect, he was proud of the results. The meeting was conducted through a combination of in-person and video attendance.
“Today went relatively very well,” Iassogna said. “This was no easy or simple task, but everyone working together accomplished much in a short time.”
The schools are operating on a hybrid model, with half the students in class on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the other half logs in remotely. The groups switch for Thursdays and Fridays with all students participating in distance learning on Wednesdays while the schools undergo a deep clean. Parents can also keep their children home where they participate in distance learning five days a week.
The day got off to an auspicious beginning, Iassogna said of receiving the call he said every superintendent dreads.
“At 7 a.m., on the way into work, the phone rang: No power at Frenchtown School,” Iassogna said. But the facilities staff went to work and within minutes had diagnosed the problem. By 7:30 a.m., the lights were on and the computer servers, internet and HVAC were up and running, he said.
The rest of the day had a similar theme of uncovering problems and addressing them, either on the spot or flagging the issue to devise a fix, he said.
“We will followup,” he said. “It (feedback) doesn’t just go in one ear and out the other.”
The board and Iassogna heard some of the complaints directly during the meeting. Michael Barker, a member of the town’s Board of Finance, said his impression as the father of a kindergarten-age distance learner is that the school year had “a very rough start.”
Students logged on for their first day of distance learning without a clear idea of what their schedule would look like, Barker said.
Having taken a half day off from work, Barker said he helped his student log in at 8:50 a.m. The daily schedule he had included only a morning meeting and a 2 p.m. gym class.
“After a 10-minute meeting at 8:50, the teacher logged off, leaving the six temporary remote kindergarten households to ask, reasonably, ‘What are we supposed to do now until 2 p.m.?’” he said. “This despite dozens of emails. There has been a lot of correspondence and very little actual communication.”
Barker acknowledged that the schools were facing an unprecedented challenge dealing with COVID-19.
“I know this is hard. I know it’s unprecedented,” he said. “But if Trumbull public schools can’t provide the students who have opted into temporary remote learning with even a basic schedule for their day, then TPS has failed those students and their parents.”
Trumbull Education Association President John Mastrianni said the system’s teachers also had an uneven opening day, with some complaining of limited supplies of masks and cleaning supplies not in classrooms. Other school systems in the region also had provided face shields or plexiglass barriers at teacher’s desks, but Trumbull hadn’t, he said.
All of this combined to leave teachers with an extemely high level of anxiety, particularly as they were normally the first point of contact when frustrated parents called their children’s schools, he said.
“To the parents listening — teachers are learning much of this as we go forward,” he said.
Iassogna, in response, said the schools had adequate amounts of protective equipment and cleaning supplies, but said some classrooms may not have been stocked. Teachers who requested barriers or masks had received them, he said.
But he also cautioned against comparing Trumbull’s preparation to other districts. There is more than one way to safeguard against coronavirus, he said, and the Trumbull schools have met all the safety standards required by state and local officials, he said.
“We may not have everything other districts have, and they don’t have what we have,” he said. “Some teachers wanted Plexiglass, and other districts don’t have the extra custodial staff that we have.”