Trumbull expands reopening of elementary schools
TRUMBULL — When students in kindergarten through second grade returned to the classrooms four days a week, Superintendent Martin Semmel called it a first step toward full in-person learning for the town’s schools.
Now the district is poised to take the next step, with Semmel recommending that grades 3-5 also return to school in person four days a week.
“Given the data, we will be allowing grades three to five to return on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays,” Semmel told the Board of Education this week. “Of course, parents still have the temporary remote learning option, and there will be full remote learning on Wednesdays.”
Beginning Nov. 5, there will no longer be two cohorts among the elementary students, Semmel said. School administrators planned to survey parents online to get a feel for the number of students who will continue remote learning.
Semmel said the return of K-2 students two weeks ago went well. Teachers had expressed some concerns about the larger number of students in classrooms, but being in front of about 12 to 15 students each day had been energizing, he said.
“It was great seeing all those youngsters back, and they were absolutely thrilled,” Semmel said. “Teachers said there was a lot more energy in the classroom. They were definitely excited to have the opportunity to teach more students in person.”
But teachers have also expressed concern about improving COVID mitigation efforts, and Semmel cautioned the board and the parents watching on Zoom that the anti-virus fight was far from over.
“We are very aware of the health data, and there could come a time when we need to scale back,” he said. “This is not just a ‘plow ahead’ process.”
Board member Michael Ward expressed concern about school transportation. With the elementary schools no longer split into two cohorts divided between remote and in-person learning, drop-off and pickup times would be twice as busy, and the number of students riding the bus each day would double.
Semmel replied that there were relatively few students in grades 3-5 who were dropped off, and he did not anticipate a large increase in traffic at the schools. The school buses also were well under capacity, he said.
“There will be more (students riding) but not nearly near what is allowed,” he said. “The state allows nearly full capacity. The students are spread out as much as they can, and masks are required. We seem to be in good shape.”
Ward also questioned whether students would continue to eat in their classrooms or would return to having lunch in the cafeteria. Semmel said the plan is to remain in the classrooms for lunch, especially with some buildings using the cafeteria as instructional space in an effort to maintain social distance.
These factors are all part of reopening a school system during a pandemic, and challenges remain, he said.
“I don’t want to come off as saying it’s easy. It’s not,” he said.
With elementary schools returning to mostly in-person learning next week, the question becomes when the middle and high schools can begin moving toward full in-person learning. Semmel, at the previous board meeting, had said the middle schools, and especially Trumbull High School and its 2,100 students attending different classes all over the building in varied groups, were especially challenging.
Board member Andrew Palo, though, expressed confidence that the schools were moving in the right direction.
“I track the numbers, and recently the positivity rate has been over 4 percent,” he said. “But there’s not much information (from the state) about where the rates are popping. I think (reopening) is the right thing to do, and I haven’t seen any evidence otherwise.”