Rilling blasts NPS summer school plan; doctor cites ‘grave concerns’

Mayor Harry Rilling, left; Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski, right.

Story updated at 2:20 p.m. to include a comment from Sarah LeMieux, and corrected at 2 p.m. to clarify that in-person high school summer school would begin on July 6.

NORWALK, Conn. — A major rift opened up between the City and school administrators Friday after NPS announced that it would be offering summer school in July.

“I was shocked to see a summer learning update from Norwalk Public Schools today that goes against the current recommendations of the Norwalk Health Department and medical adviser to NPS,” Mayor Harry Rilling said in a statement sent three hours after an NPS email blast went out to parents.

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski has recently stressed the importance of offering summer school in light of learning gaps resulting from the sudden switch to distance learning due to the pandemic. The email blast cited Gov. Ned Lamont’s “ReOpen Connecticut” plan, and “guidance allowing in-person summer school classes to start on Monday, July 6.”

“The district has designed summer instruction options that will include both distance learning and in-person options,” the blast said.

Adamowski responded to the Mayor’s statement by saying he’d been “surprised and blindsided” by it, “without the courtesy of a phone call.”


NPS announcement

The five-week long Summer Academy is for K-8 students scoring at the 25th percentile and below in literacy, the NPS email blast said. Parents were “strongly” urged to arrange their own transportation to classes, but bus service was offered to kindergartners through third graders and “special education students of any grade level who will be attending an ESY {Extended School Year} program.”

Parents can choose an entirely virtual experience or opt in to in-person learning, with a teacher to student ratio of 10:1 per classroom. There’s also a hybrid model for fourth through eighth graders, alternating weeks of in-person learning with weeks of virtual classes.

High school students are eligible for summer learning if they’ve scored an “incomplete.” This could also be done in-person or virtually; the in-person option would be begin on July 6 while virtual learning is available as soon as school ends. In-person days would alternate with virtual days.

“{W}e want to assure families, students and staff that NPS will adhere to strict health protocols based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the State of Connecticut Department of Education and the Norwalk Health Department,” the announcement said.

NPS Summer School announcement 20-0529


‘Misleading and irresponsible’

“While the State of Connecticut has allowed school districts to consider offering summer school on July 6, communities are charged with making the final decision about whether that can safely be accomplished,” the City press release said.

“I specifically asked NPS to coordinate and share a detailed safety plan for review by health and safety experts prior to distributing information to parents,” Rilling said in the release.

“I was disappointed to learn NPS is moving ahead with plans for in-person summer school. I speak frequently with my colleagues across the state, and many similar communities to Norwalk, like New Haven and Danbury, are planning for online-only summer school,” Norwalk Director of Health Deanna D’Amore said.

“I have some grave concerns about the opening of Norwalk Public School’s summer school prematurely,” Dr. Norman J. Weinberger, pediatrician and NPS medical adviser, is quoted as saying, citing his three decades in service to NPS and his membership on the Board of Health.

“Dr. Weinberger and I met with leadership of Norwalk Public Schools earlier this week and we recommended that it was too early to anticipate a return to in- person instruction,” D’Amore is quoted as saying. “In addition to making sure the timing is correct, there also needs to be a detailed plan in place reviewed and approved by health experts to ensure students and teachers will not be put at-risk. That plan has yet to be shared with the Norwalk Health Department.”

“More details are required than simply saying temperature checks will happen and face masks will be worn. It is misleading to present options that have not yet been approved or vetted by anyone outside of the school district,” Rilling said.

Further, “It was irresponsible to share information before medical experts could sign-off on a plan that will protect the health and safety of students and staff,” Rilling said. “I remind Dr. Adamowski and his staff that Norwalk Public Schools is not an island unto itself. They are part of our city, and quite frankly, are being reckless with their approach to summer school.”

“For me, the health of our children is our number one priority,” Weinberger said. “In light of the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the State of Connecticut and the American Academy of Pediatrics for safe openings of schools, I am raising questions related to adequate preparation to ensure the safety and health of our children during this coronavirus pandemic. Are we in Norwalk adequately prepared?”


Adamowski: Rilling needs to be consistent

Adamowski released this statement:

“As our parent newsletter states today about summer learning opportunities, NPS curriculum leaders and administrators have designed options keeping in mind all Connecticut State Department of Education health and safety guidelines, and have provided parents with the choice of summer learning remotely at home. Norwalk has followed the State opening schedule and safety guidelines in every other respect and education should not be the exception. We expect that the Mayor will be consistent in his adherence to State guidelines and recognize the needs of all families, including the growing achievement gap of many of our most underserved students that has been widened by the prolonged closure of schools.

“We believe we have worked closely with the Mayor’s staff throughout this health crisis. I was surprised and blindsided by the Mayor’s statement today without the courtesy of a phone call. I would characterize it as an overreaction and a misunderstanding without communication. Ironically, at the same time we have been planning summer learning options we have been working with the City on the use of school buildings for summer camps run by the Recreation and Parks Department.”


“I think upon a close reading of the NPS announcement, a simple clarification would help address any concerns,” Board of Education Chairwoman Sarah LeMieux said Saturday. “These are plans that are being discussed and evolving with guidance, they are by no means set in stone, and the primary intent of the NPS communication was to assess parent interest and need so that staffing decisions could begin to be made.”

She continued, “This is an exceptionally difficult time, and everyone’s emotions are easily roused. Turning toward each other and means testing our communication will allow us to work together confidently and successfully.”


10 responses to “Rilling blasts NPS summer school plan; doctor cites ‘grave concerns’”

  1. John ONeill

    A lawyer will have a field day suing the city due to the inconsistent policies surrounding this issue. Kudos to the Mayor and Supt. for maintaining those lines of communication during these unusual times.

  2. Sarah McIntee

    This is embarrassing for our city to have this play out like this. And while I am 100% for a safe reopening, Rilling needs to also consider the fact that distance learning is not feasible for all families all the time. And summer school traditionally is specifically designed for those kids falling behind – which means more than likely they also were struggling with distance learning this year at home. To expect them to succeed at home with summer school online is a tall order. Additionally, where is the evidence – other than Rilling’s opinion- that this isn’t being done safely. Yesterday the state opened up to 10 people indoors. I don’t know the student ratio but what if that is a feasible number for summer school? Then they are well within the state guidelines and I see nothing wrong with this. It’s the same as pre schools, camps, and daycares. Why isn’t there a conversation being had at the city level to answer these questions first instead of this blast trying to undercut one another’s credibility.

  3. Bryan Meek

    Nothing says being concerned about social distancing like packing every last square inch of East Norwalk with cheaply built apartments so that people can live on top of one another. Don’t worry, while you are missing another month of work doing the work of educating your children for month number 4 of the 2 week curve flattening exercise, you can take warm comfort with all the future pictures of the Mayor and Governor living it up without masks at all their favorite restaurants.

    But seriously, let’s call this what it is. The mayor is ticked that he didn’t get to announce the opening himself with a nice picture in front of the new Ponus Ridge building.

  4. Bryan Meek

    Glad to see NPS working hard at getting back to in class room learning that is sorely overdue. Don’t think that it has gone unnoticed that the majority of the cars parked at city hall over the past few months are mostly NPS staff. Glad you are at least getting this set up. Of course it will be the responsibility of the new Superintendent to make the call, not the mayor who is too busy getting his picture taken. Come July 1 when she starts that her gives 5 days to consider. Considering we shut this whole thing down on 3 days notice, I think we can do that again if necessary.

    The mayor should concern himself more with things like the mall store operators who have yet to come back 10 days after the re-opening. The skyrocketing commercial vacancy rates in our over assessed stock of empty office buildings. The lack of beach access for tax paying citizens. The complete mystery surrounding the question as to whether city hall will ever re-open again and when? The treatment plant which smells foul up to East Ave every time it rains and what 3000 more residents will mean for that. The ability for people to live here and keep cars registered in NY indefinitely. The plan for funding city operations when property tax revenues fall short come October. Encouraging the opening of churches along side the already open liquor stores and abortion clinic. The education system never needed his capacity to waffle on decisions now and certainly won’t any time soon. The city, however, needs a rudder, not more luxury yachts for developers and the politically connected.

  5. Non Partisan

    Pandemic of 1968

    100,000 us /1mm worldwide

    The US and the world populations were a fraction of what they are today

    Schools/ government/ business all remained open

    Do the right thing. The world has learned to socially distanced themselves , wash their hands or get sick. In the mean timE- STOP BIG GOVT from ruining our lives and livelihoods

  6. Kay Anderson

    Sarah LeMieux is the adult in the room and many many thanks to her clear statement and compassionate guidance to students, families and teachers on behalf of the Board. It’s difficult to be a female elected official and leader anyway; and just more so when criticized in the press by the mayor.

  7. Norwalk parent

    There NEEDS to be summer school and summer camps this summer IN PESRSON!
    It’s an executive order, and Rilling cannot go against that.
    Kudos to NPS and Adamowski……shame on Rilling.

  8. George Villasanos

    It has come out that COVID-19 disproportionately affects minorities. You know who makes up the lion’s share of summer school attendees? That’s right, minorities. Sending these students back to school now is just going to spread the virus among the most vulnerable. Achievement gaps can be closed; dead people don’t come back and the potential for permanent disabilities is going to be far more affecting than a loss of 6 months of education. To ignore the Health Department and consulting pediatrician is just negligent. Finally, if this is such a wise idea, how come no other major cities in CT are taking this path? Take the safer choice, Norwalk, and protect the most vulnerable.

  9. carol

    schools closed-more cases will appear as social distancing is not opserved.

  10. Bryan Meek

    Parade of 1000 people on I95, closing down businesses and traffic, against the Governor’s orders limiting gatherings to 25 is ok.

    But teaching children in classrooms of less than 20 students (mostly from impoverished and minority backgrounds) in line with the Governor’s guidance is not ok with the mayor.


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