NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s Democratic leaders met with Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz on Wednesday for a tour of Columbus Magnet School and an update on the schools reopening.
“I’ve had the opportunity to visit schools across the state, from Vernon to New Britain to Meriden, to see how the schools reopening are going,” Bysiewicz said. “And what’s very nice to hear from (Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella) is that, as families see what protections have been put in place to protect students and teachers, that families are now wanting to send their kids who are learning at home, back into the classroom.”
“The children who are remote are starting to ask to come back to face to face because yes, they are missing their friends and parents are more comfortable with the protocols that we have in place,” Columbus Magnet School Principal Medard Thomas said. “And so, of course, we don’t fault the parents for wanting to keep their kids at home. But there’s more flexibility… they understand a little bit more that we are very responsible with safety protocols and so hopefully things will come back to normal. Hopefully soon.”
Thomas said there had been “no tears whatsoever” when the kids returned to Columbus, “even with our kindergarteners, because what we’ve done prep the kids well in advance…children were receiving videos and emails from our teachers.”
“It was a very seamless opening,” he said. “…Everyone was cooperative.”
All the Norwalk’s elementary schools have classes in their buildings five days a week, with some students participating at home via the Internet.
Mayor Harry Rilling said that on Tuesday, he had two of his grandchildren in his home, doing distance learning lessons with their school in Trumbull.
“I would send them back, too,” he said. “…It’s a challenge to keep them focused but they do it. I was very impressed with the teacher who encouraged the kids.”
One of the children is in third grade and the other in seventh grade, and Trumbull has them attending in-person Thursday and Friday, Rilling said.
“That is like a parent’s nightmare, right?” Bysiewicz said.
“Yes,” Rilling replied.
Norwalk’s middle and high school students come two days in-person, and on one day schools are closed for cleaning, Estrella said. With younger children, “childcare is a factor that we have to take into consideration and also they learn better when they are in person and engaging with the teachers. So we have 60 percent of the overall population in person and like you said earlier every day we have more and more families asking if they could change their decision.”
Bysiewicz said this is a consistent theme statewide.
“Our state has lost 45,000 childcare spots during the pandemic,” Bysiewicz said. “Those people who have small businesses just went out of the business.”
But, at Columbus, “I can tell by how the kids are doing and the teachers are doing that people are really the students and the teachers are happy to be back and they seem very engaged,” Bysiewicz said. “I know that a lot of thought was put into keeping the kids safe – so the desks are six feet apart, the littlest kids through the oldest kids are wearing masks, which is a great thing. I saw kids learn, being reminded to wash their hands, which is great, and everybody seems to be learning.”