standing Wheeler middle high school

The North Stonington public school system is looking to go from a hybrid model to a full reopening that puts safety first. | Sun file photo

NORTH STONINGTON — School administrators and Board of Education members are exploring whether students could safely return to school full time, with district officials preparing a long-term plan to be presented next week.

North Stonington Superintendent of Schools Peter Nero said Thursday that the district is weighing the latest data and recommendations from the state, Ledge Light Health District and school-based physicians to determine the best course of action to protect both students and staff while continuing to provide a quality education for children in the community.

"We are looking at the possibility of going to a full reopening, which was always part of the plan when we first decided to return using a hybrid model," Nero said Thursday. "We had said when school began that we would revisit the plan at the end of September and that's exactly what we are doing."

Over the past week, district administrators and members of both the School Reopening Task Force and Board of Education received the latest information regarding COVID-19 pediatric cases, including hearing an updated report from experts with Yale-New Haven Hospital during a special meeting Wednesday night.

School officials said reports have indicated that children remain less susceptible to contracting the virus or suffering serious illness, but there have been regularly reported cases in children nationwide.

"When you look at the data, we are right on pace with where we had hoped to be," Nero said. "At the same time, there is still the issues of concern regarding impact to faculty. We will be looking everything over in great detail in developing a plan."

Nero said at the request of Board of Education members, parents were emailed a survey earlier this week showing wide-ranging support for a full return, but acknowledged there are still a number of concerns that were expressed by some in the community, as well as by officials with the Ledge Light Health District.

A second, more detailed survey was sent to parents on Thursday, and Nero said the results of that survey, along with the administration's proposed plan moving forward, would be presented to the Board of Education during another special meeting on Oct. 7.

In North Stonington, there have been only 16 confirmed and one suspected case of COVID-19 diagnosed since the start of the pandemic, and the number of cases in town has remained flat since the summer. There have been no reported cases in children in the community this academic year.

Ledge Light Health District reported a significant uptick in southeastern Connecticut in recent weeks, however, including the number of new cases doubling week to week at the end of September. The increase has also included reports of two diagnoses at Harbor Elementary School in New London in just two days, and Ledyard schools reported Wednesday that there was a confirmed case and the impacted individual was told to self-quarantine.

Nero said the district would continue to monitor information and updated data on a near daily basis, but said the district's goal will remain to have students return to full learning as soon as it is safe to do so.

"There is no replacement for in-school learning. We know that. We want students back and most parents have indicated they want their kids fully in school," Nero said. "We are making progress toward that goal, are reviewing data and will present an updated plan at the meeting next Wednesday."

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