022521 NSTN In person school returns hh 31596.JPG

North Stonington Elementary School students arrive at school on Feb. 25. The district will return to a five-day, in-person schedule beginning Tuesday. Sun file photo

NORTH STONINGTON — Students shifted to a virtual learning day Monday, a precautionary measure after a majority of the district’s teachers received their second vaccination during a weekend clinic. Officials are hopeful it might be the last time the district needs to turn to distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the first time in over a year, North Stonington’s public schools will be open this week for in-person instruction on Wednesday as the district continues to transition back to everyday instruction. Superintendent of Schools Peter L. Nero said Monday that both students and staff are excited to see things begin to return to normal and hopeful for what a late March return might mean for the end of the school year.

“We are excited to see aspects of life finally returning towards some sense of normal,” Nero said. “This is, we hope, a start to providing regular opportunities for our students again as well.”

The last time that students in North Stonington attended Wednesday classes in person was on March 11, 2020, less than a week before the presence of COVID-19 in the region led the state to close all schools under emergency orders.

The district began bringing students back on a more full-time basis in late February, allowing all students in the district an opportunity to be in class four days each week. The return was one the district had hoped to implement last fall, with initial plans ready in late October, but a spike in cases before the Thanksgiving holiday and a rise in infection rates through the holiday season led the Board of Education and school administrators to delay those plans until 2021.

Nero said the district has been fortunate to be able to avoid any significant jump in cases in the school community, and a high rate of vaccination among teachers will aid in preventing transmission among school staff.

Across the region, the number of confirmed and suspected cases continued to follow a downward trend in southeastern Connecticut that began in late January. In the two-week period ending March 20, the Ledge Light Health District reported that the town had just 11 reported cases.

Since the start of the pandemic, 266 North Stonington residents have been diagnosed with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, including four which contributed to an individual’s death.

At exactly 15 cases per 100,000 residents, data shows that North Stonington is now on the cusp of returning to an ‘orange’ alert status. Neighboring Stonington saw its alert rating move from ‘red’ to ‘orange’ earlier this month.

Nero said that with the latest school transition, students and teachers will need to continue to be responsible and follow protocols including use of masks and distancing when possible, but noted the five-day return is the first step in providing “as normal of an end of year as possible.”

Conn. Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday that the state would begin moving forward this week is offering vaccinations to all residents over the age of 16.

The announcement offers hope for the return of usual end-of-year activities including potentially hosting a prom for seniors and providing a more traditional graduation ceremony.

“We have had a lot of success opening back up, and that’s largely because we have had excellent cooperation from both our staff and students,” Nero said. “Everyone has worked hard to get through this pandemic and we are starting to see a possible end.”

He said that with this in mind, those in the community should be prepared to wear masks for the foreseeable future.

Nero noted that mask requirements aren’t likely to go away anytime soon and are likely to still be in place when students return this fall.

In the meantime, he said he is confident that the community will continue to take proper precautions and look out for one another, just as they have since the pandemic response first began.

“I couldn’t be more proud of how our students and staff have handled the challenges,” Nero said.

“Everyone has done their part, and we are looking forward to being able to get things back to normal as a result of those efforts,” he continued.

Stonington brings back 4 grades

Stonington Public Schools continued efforts to bring students back into the classroom Monday as the district welcomed back students in four grades, the third phase of a four-part return that aims to have all students in class four days per week by next Monday.

Students in grades 4, 5, 7 and 10 each returned to class on Monday, leaving just three grades which continue to operate using the hybrid model.

Students in kindergarten and grades 1, 6 and 9 returned four days per week on March 15, and students in grades 2 and 3 were welcomed back under the four-day schedule at the Dean’s Mill and West Vine Street schools last week.

Those in grades 8, 11 and 12 are scheduled to return for four-day instruction beginning next Monday.

Families throughout the district also have the option of participating in distance learning only through the end of the school year under the district’s return plan.

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