NPS works toward keeping parents informed as teachers doubt reopening specifics

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella presents reopening information, Tuesday on Zoom.

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.


‘Unanswered questions’

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.”


DrewT August 19, 2020 at 9:06 am

So everyone has to adjust and make changes in their lives and careers like everyone else. It’s a whole new world . Further when will the BOE Finally have IN PERSON Meetings?’! There is plenty of rooms available at City Hall to maintain Social Distancing or they can all wear masks like the rest of us! There is ZERO excuses for the BOE not to meet in person moving forward.

Nora King August 19, 2020 at 9:42 am

Mary Yordon and the teachers union needs to be stopped. They are blocking the education of our children. Many teachers do not agree with their agenda and many that do are the teachers that get reshuffled because the city is not allowed to fire them because the union protects them. Union reform is drastically needed in this state. Perhaps we should move to a model where teachers are work as will like most jobs in CT and the US. The most important goal is have our children educated in a safe environment. The spring agreement Yordon refers to was a disgrace to the education system for our city. She and other union representatives should have been ashamed of themselves thinking what they delivered was education. Our kids deserve an education. As parents we pay for it through are very expensive Norwalk taxes.

Mike Yord August 19, 2020 at 8:42 pm

Nora, I am a teacher and my opinion may be biased, but I am at a loss at to why people like you think that educators are somehow trying to get out of doing their job. We want to continue to educate, but many of us would like to begin the school year remotely, and then if it is safe to do so, move to a hybrid model, and then hopefully a full reopening. Educating students the whole way through. The ENTIRE corporate world is still working home with no return date. They made adjustments to their jobs. Most colleges are remote as well. Most offices do not cram as many people into small spaces as classrooms, and yet they are working from home. I would imagine that you typed this response from your home. It really does feel like many people got a taste of working from home, and then thought to themselves that having their kids out of the house with daycare.. sorry, I mean school would be the icing on the cake! So I need to risk dying and not have a remote work environment like most people so you can have some peace a quiet at home? Don’t have kids if you have the mindset that you should just be able to fling them onto other people during a world pandemic. If you are the Nora King that was a local politician here in Norwalk, then you should be ashamed of yourself.

Clark Charles August 19, 2020 at 10:09 pm

I’m writing this commment as a concerned school teacher in the Norwalk Public schools. I was very eager to return this year to see my students and colleagues, but there have been absolutely no guidelines on how we are going to be teaching this year with the new curriculum, technology and COVID-19 restrictions. One cannot do paper and pencil assignments now, no bulletin boards, Teachers are being asked to teach students both at school and virtually at home, the extra hours the teachers will now have to do after school will be enormous, and yet there have been no clear cut guidelines on how to do this. Also teachers are worried about the liability issues of teaching students at home and be filmed especially if students are home alone. Has anybody thought about this? Teachers are being asked to teach unlike any year in history and there have been no clear cut directions or plans from Central office on how everything is going to go. All the teachers have been told is “thank you for working together, we know its going to be a tough year, but don’t worry we are all in this together.” Well, what the heck does that mean? There is absolutely no plan on how this year is going to go and the teachers are really disapointed and frustrated, and if I was a parent I would be too. I don’t blame the Superintendent or anybody down town, but I think the State should have thought this whole matter through. We as teachers are dedicated to helping our students, But if we have to teach under these incredible conditions with only one week to go imagine how our kids are going to feel. All of the teachers I have talked to are more confused than ever on how this year is going to go. Nobody knows how we are going to teach the curriculum, how to run the new technology for the virtual learners, and everyone is being asked to wear masks all day, sanitize the classrooms ever few hours, stay and eat in the classroom all day with 6 foot distancing. In my opinion school should not start until January until the American government gets the Covid-19 virus under control. This start of the year is turning out to be a disaster. Note: I heard many teachers are planning to resign now because they say we didn’t sign up for these problems and chaos. I think they are right. As much as I love my students If I could resign I would too. Things have to change here and get better. We owe to the students and we owe it to all Educators.

Dog owner August 20, 2020 at 9:15 am

The kids and teachers ALL need to be in school.
Enough of this remote learning.
Shouldn’t even be an option.
If a teacher doesn’t want to report, take a leave and find somebody new.
If a family doesn’t want to send their kids, then home-school them.

Nora King August 20, 2020 at 12:20 pm

Mike – you are biased. Distance Learning was manipulated in Norwalk by the Teachers Union and it did not work. So working from home and doing distance learning is not an option. If Norwalk would like to cancel school and start when the virus is over with that could be an option. Then the kids could be fully educated when they can reopen. Or we could all grow up and realize the virus is here to stay and we need to reopen and safely wear masks, and wash our hands and our environment and go back. Corporate America is laying people off like crazy and many people are back at work. Teachers are essential workers. I think if they don’t want to go back they should take a leave of absence without pay and not go back. I am sure there are many professionals and myself included who were scared to go back to work but you know what—-we did. We pulled our big girl and boy pants up and off we went. I was on a call with Rowayton Elem School and every detail was thought out. I even know what bathroom my daughter will be going to. So when you whine about how it has not been thought out – you are wrong. School should not start until kids can go back to a classroom full time. So perhaps the answer is we lay everyone off until they can go back to work. THE ENTIRE CORPORATE WORLD IS NOT WORKING FROM HOME STILL. So Mike Yord you should be ashamed of your self for coping out on your students. You should resign until schools reopen because distance learning is an absolute joke. My children deserve better than the education that was given to them from March to June of last year.

John ONeill August 20, 2020 at 4:46 pm

@Nora – Mike does have a point. That being said as he compares teachers to corporate workers would he be okay working from home and having his salary reduced by 25%, like many coprorate people. I say let teachers work from home which you may disagree with, but reduce salaries by 25% as has been done all over corporate America. Not sure if Mike would agree, but he did bring corporations into the discussion. You can’t have it both ways. At least you shouldn’t be able to.

Mike Yord August 21, 2020 at 10:54 am

I would take the 25 percent reduction if I were to be working safely at home. It would probably be around a 10 percent difference when you factor in the gas money that will no longer be an issue. Each and every person I know has no date to return to their office. A few people I know “stop in” once or twice a week. Remember, they typically aren’t crammed full of people like a classroom is. Not even close. The streets are packed every day during the normal 9-5 working hours, a heck of a lot more than a usual summer. So most people are still working from home and taking lots of liberties. As another commenter said elsewhere on this site, everyone should return to work. Fully open restaurants and bars, concerts, sporting events, beaches, etc. This is ridiculous that everything is half open and yet teachers and students have to be the test subjects. Look at what is happening in the states that have opened schools. Not good. Still can’t find any type of disinfecting wipes for my classroom, unless its a third party seller on Ebay for 70 bucks a pop. This country is not ready. And Nora, put your big girl pants on, and and sit in a classroom with whatever paperwork you have for a full day. Let’s see how nervous you get. Very big difference.

John O'Neill August 22, 2020 at 10:55 am

Terrific — At least we know some in the teacher’s union would be happy to take a 25% salary reduction if we have remote learning this year. If the majority feel the same way, we may have a deal in the works. Mayor Rilling should be sharing lunch with Estrella and Yordon to finalize these plans. I’d appreciate it if Henry Dachowitz was there as an advocate for taxpayers.

Peter Franz August 23, 2020 at 11:44 am

What is with the Union bashing? Let’s have an intelligent discussion please. Making teachers and children guinea pigs for political gain is evidence of very poor decision making.

For the record, I see little evidence that –across the board — the corporate world is suddenly paying WFH employees less. Although I’m sure there are some instances of it. I have zero reduction in my pay, and my company has had zero issues with productivity.

Why exactly are we suddenly using this pandemic to attack teacher’s pay?

Nora King August 24, 2020 at 8:51 am

Harry should be doing the same arrangement with town hall. But I think 40% is the number for corporations right now -not 25 percent. Mike – I am an essential worker so I know how nervous one can be, since I have been deemed one since March 13. Educating our kids from home is not an option and Mike it seems like many people who don’t want to go back into the classroom you should take a leave of absence. I personally want the city to give families vouchers so parents can decide where they want to send their children to school.

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