‘New challenges surely lie ahead’: Trumbull schools plan for reopening

TRUMBULL — The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged schools in unprecedented ways, but interim Supt. Ralph Iassogna said he is confident that Trumbull students will receive the best education possible when they return to classes.

“Although new challenges surely lie ahead, if we continue to expend the same energy, effort and commitment as in the past, we will succeed in moving forward the established educational priorities we have emphasized,” Iassogna wrote in the school system’s reopening plan submitted to the state July 24.

The reopening plan, as required by Gov. Ned Lamont and the state Department of Education, contains three different models: in-school learning, distance learning, and a combined hybrid model.

Even as he submitted the plan, Iassogna said he recognized that the choices could not satisfy everyone. The plan was drafted by a committee consisting of dozens of school officials, parents, the town Health Department and fire marshal’s office and Durham School Services bus company representatives.

“As with all endeavors such as this, differing opinions will be promoted and not everyone will agree with its content,” he wrote. “The new reality is that Connecticut schools will look differently in September, but will strive to provide our students with a productive and meaningful learning opportunity and experience.”

The hybrid model would split student bodies into two groups, with one group in school Monday and Tuesday, the second in school Thursday and Friday, and Wednesday dedicated to teacher planning and a deep cleaning of the buildings. The two groups of students would participate in distance learning on the days they are not in school.

The primary goal is a return to in-school learning. This will best provide for the students’ educational and emotional needs, according to the plan.

“While distance learning has provided the best possible alternative during school closures, there is no substitute for in-person instruction when it comes to the quality of students’ academic learning,” Iassogna wrote. “In-person school plays an equally important role in our ability to support students’ social-emotional needs, including their mental and physical health, and in mitigating the impacts of trauma.”

He added that distance learning also had affected families’ work schedules by disrupting child care routines.

If students are to return to school, the cooperation of their families is crucial, he said. Families must check their children daily for COVID-19 symptoms, support the wearing of a mask or face covering and continue to follow state health guidelines at home.

While in school, students will be required to wear masks or face coverings, maintain social distance while in the building and wash their hands frequently. Mask “breaks” will be provided throughout the day.

Returning to school also would require greater efforts on the part of the staff, including separating and labeling instructional materials, twice daily disinfecting of bathrooms, establishing and following one-way traffic patterns in hallways, and more.

Also, meal and bus service will vary depending on the state’s estimates of transmission risk. Assuming schools are open, teachers will inform the kitchen crews how many meals they need for their classroom, and the food will be delivered in individual bags. High school students will be allowed to eat in the cafeteria if social distancing rules are followed.

Bus service could be among the largest problem areas, he said. If schools are open for traditional in-person instruction, buses can be run at full capacity with students required to wear a mask. Students also will be required to fill the bus from back to front, to minimize the number of students they must pass.

But in the event that the schools are using a hybrid model because of elevated risk, parents would be asked to transport their children to school, reserving the bus for students with no other way of getting to their building. This is because the state’s “every other seat, every other row” guidelines for such a scenario would mean that buses that normally transport 72 students would only be able to carry 12. It is simply not feasible to have six buses on every route, according to the report.

Even with the plans he outlined, Iassogna said the plan could be subject to change because of changes in the state’s assessment of risk or if a person is known to have been in the schools with COVID-19. Such a situation would likely require a shutdown of two to five days or more. Students demonstrating symptoms while at school would be quarantined in a room with separate ventilation until a parent could take them home.

Despite all the challenges, though, Iassogna expressed optimism that the return to school could be successful.

“With adherence to the State of Connecticut’s comprehensive set of critical health and safety requirements along with the Trumbull Public Schools commitment to a safe and appropriate education, we can bring our students, staff and families safely back to school…and keep them in school,” Iassogna wrote.