NORWALK, Conn. — Town halls, reopening manuals, Facebook live events and other tactics were touted at Tuesday evening’s Norwalk Board of Education meeting, as the school district works to keep parents informed about the expected imminent school reopening.
It’s not just families who have worries; Norwalk teachers are suffering through a “good deal of anxiety,” Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon said.
“The community has come together with very good questions out of a sense of concern but also optimism that their children are going to be returning to school,” Norwalk Public Schools Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo said. “And I think one of the superintendent’s, really, charges throughout this process has been for elementary school students to be able to return to school, in person, every day throughout the day.”
That’s prompted questions — the announcement that Jefferson Elementary School would be used as overflow space for the youngest students has some worrying about the building’s air quality, given the contagious nature of the coronavirus.
NPS will post a OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) report on Jefferson, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella said.
“I thought it would be very important for the community to have access to this document so that they can be at ease to know that the building is habitable and that we’re making sure that the space is designed to ensure that we have to socially distance our students,” Estrella said. Students from different schools will not be commingling at Jefferson, she said. Jefferson will have the same air filtration system as other schools, even in the mobile classrooms, but at this point NPS does not plan to use those mobile classrooms.
“Also we’ll have UV light because I know that was one of the things that some of the parents advocated for,” Estrella said.
Each school has held its own virtual town hall to delve into the details for their particular buildings, and Special Education families and multilingual learners have also had opportunities to learn about their specialized circumstances, Estrella said. PowerPoint presentations are being uploaded to NPS website.
Also expected on the schools website is a State Department of Education addendum around health and safety, steps the school district can use to identify “someone that is symptomatic, as well as the processes that we would need to take in order to support that individual or a student that might be identified as positive,” she said.
Next week, “I’m just going to have a town hall for students in middle school in high school, just to kind of reassure them around the opening, but also to hear some of their feedback that we can then utilize,” Estrella said.
Estrella did not address any of Yordon’s statements, made at the beginning of the meeting.
“There are still many unanswered questions about how to keep people safe, and exactly how to deliver instruction in this new context,” Yordon said. “…We are also facing serious childcare shortfalls with different districts having different schedules, leaving some of our members with families scrambling. Many of our members have been required to change grade levels and are facing the new school year in a new grade level with new curriculum units to master. In addition to everything else, some certified staff are still waiting for the specifics of their assignments.”
They’re looking for “the specifics of how to implement the very complex model of teaching three classes at once that the district has been recently presented to us. We’re not aware of other of our Fairfield County neighbors using this type of model. And there it is causing a good deal of anxiety,” she said.
There were 10 resignations listed in the Board packet, including that of Chief Academic Officer Brenda Myers, five retirements and three leaves of absence. Yordon said these may be related to the fact that remote teaching assignments are not available for teachers who have health concerns.
Teachers learned Google Classroom during the sudden switch to distance learning, but now it appears this is being phased out, Yordon said.
“There is talk of CEA (Connecticut Education Association) asking for a two week delay in the start of the school year,” and the American Federation of Teachers recommends that schools “consider opening remotely in order to safeguard the students as a temporary measure until the buildings and the safety practices are in place,” she said.
While, “I think we have made a good deal of progress compared to some of our other neighbors,” the NFT seeks a signed agreement to “document the flexibilities and arrangements that provide reassurances of support… in support of the mutual goals that we have with the district for student achievement and health and safety,” Yordon said. “…We had one for the spring pandemic closure, and we really do not have a contract that reflects the type of teaching and the type of arrangements that are required for opening school this fall. I would like to get a signed agreement in place before school starts.”