standing Wheeler middle high school

NORTH STONINGTON — The school system has submitted plans to fully reopen in the fall in accordance with both safety guidelines and recommendations set forth by the state of Connecticut, but will weigh the results of a parent and teacher survey due Aug. 5 to implement a system that will work best for the entire school community.

Superintendent of Schools Peter L. Nero said this week that a task force and subcommittees have been working diligently since early June to develop several back-to-school plans that include a full return, a hybrid return and distance learning options. He said throughout the process, safety has remained the top priority in all discussions and will remain the most important factor in decision-making.

“Moving forward, first and foremost, we will ensure that our top priority will be the health, safety and welfare of our students and staff,” Nero wrote in a letter to parents that was released on Wednesday. “Just as we were challenged in the spring, we will do whatever it takes to maintain an excellent school system.”

The district formally submitted its plan to the state this week, which was detailed in a 29-page guide with an introduction letter that includes aspects of each return-to-school initiative and policies to guard against a COVID-19 outbreak. A survey was also sent to parents Thursday requesting input.

Once the survey has been returned, members of the task force are scheduled to meet on Aug. 10 to review results and make a final determination on exactly how the schools will reopen.

In the full-return model, all students would be invited and encouraged to return to classes on a full-time basis. However, officials said if such a decision is reached, the district school would provide a virtual plan for parents and students who would prefer to begin the year using a distance-learning model for health or other reasons.

Students would not be allowed to implement a hybrid model with a full return, and would need to choose between simply returning or full distance learning, officials said.

To aid with the transition of younger students, many of whom were impacted by the March shutdown, those in kindergarten and first grade would attend school in split sessions for the first two weeks of school. Half of the class in each grade would attend school for the morning session and the other half would attend the afternoon session.

“As directed by the state of Connecticut, we are opening as a full, back-to-school return. If conditions should change at any time during the year, we will, ‘Adapt, Advance, Achieve: Connecticut’s Plan to Learn and Grow Together,” Nero said.

Should the school implement a hybrid model at any point, the plan would involve all students attending school two days per week with three days of distance learning. School and support staff would also reserve the right to recommend a student attend four days if they proved to have “extreme academic difficulty” during the last quarter of the 2019-20 school year, although parents would retain the right to decline such participation.

The district is also prepared to return to a full-distance learning model in the event that it becomes clear a return to school would put the safety of students and staff at risk.

Regardless of what the future may bring, Nero said his staff, teachers and administrators, and members of the Board of Education, have all worked to assure the schools are ready to do whatever is necessary to provide North Stonington’s children with a quality education.

“While North Stonington Public Schools is a small school in a rural setting, we feel that we benefit from that, especially under the present circumstances,” Nero said. “That was evident in the spring, when without notice or any planning we were able to develop a virtual plan that worked quite well under the circumstances.”

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