The Stonington and North Stonington school districts are transitioning to digital-based distance curriculums in anticipation that the schools will likely be closed for another eight weeks or longer during the coronavirus pandemic.

Administrators have been holding meetings with their teams to discuss the challenges, teachers are being trained on a variety of tools such as the Google Classroom web service, and IT staff members have been working to prepare devices for students to use at home.

“We will make sure all students have a laptop available to them at home and we are going to move forward while putting forward our best effort,” said North Stonington School Superintendent Peter L. Nero. “It’s not going to be perfect, but we will come together and we will make it work.”

In Stonington, the goal is to begin formal instruction on Monday, March 30. Assistant Superintendent Mary Anne Butler said Friday that the district is completing plans to distribute technology to students who need it and will do so over the course of the next week.

Stonington Middle School already has a 1-to-1 program that provides students with a Chromebook, but other devices will be needed to accommodate other students. Butler said the district is thoroughly sanitizing each device with an electrostatic disinfectant fogger, and will need to buy approximately 300 more.

The cost, estimated at $56,000, will come from the district’s long-term technology replacement budget, Butler said, and will not affect the operating budget.

“Over the summer, we had already intended to replace a number of devices as part of a planned three-year technology refresh cycle,” Butler said. Now the timeline of the purchases is being changed.

Students who need the computers will be able to pick them up next week at Stonington High School. Butler said the district intends to use the breakfast/lunch distribution line to streamline the process while also limiting the exposure of staff members and families.

Butler asked that families who have not done so should consider filling out the Student Technology Access survey on the district’s website, which will help assure that all students will be served. This is especially needed for situations in which there may be several siblings or parents who need family devices to conduct their own work at home.

In a letter to parents, Superintendent of Schools Van W. Riley said the administration is also working with special education teachers to help create individualized learning plans for special needs students. This will involve implementing video-chat features to aid one-on-one instruction.

“The district is in constant communication with the Office of Civil Rights and the Connecticut Department of Education to secure the most updated guidance from these entities regarding learning opportunities for all students,” Riley said.

The transition, paired with at-home learning opportunities afforded to students during the first two weeks of the shutdown, will allow the district to maintain its tentative schedule for the school year. That means students will still have their April vacation and the last day of school will remain June 19.

Butler said the schools plan to remain in touch with families on a daily basis and will reach out with updates whenever they become available. Parents are also urged to check their email and the school website frequently. The school day will run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for all students, and online instruction time will range form 2 hours per day for K-2 students to 3½-4 hours for Grades 9-12.

For North Stonington students, at-home classes will officially resume on Wednesday, Nero said. He said that like Stonington, there will be adjustments that need to be made in order to assure that all students have the technology they need.

As of Thursday, Nero said, 26 to 28 students had expressed a need for access to a computer. He estimated that about 40 laptops would have to be distributed in order to implement the curriculum. Nero said that the district had the equipment and that the IT staff was working to make sure the hardware and software is ready.

“Fortunately we have a lot of families who already have access to these devices at home,” he said.

Nero said staff members have been working to transition their classes to Google Classroom and other digital platforms. He said he felt confident that the district would be able to host its first official distance learning classes as scheduled.

The district hopes to stick with its normal schedule and avoid extending the school year, Nero said, and would continue to take guidance from the state on what is needed for student learning.

Nero and Butler said they were making plans in case the CDC recommends continued social distancing through the end of the school year. But both said they suspect that students will still be able to return to class this year.

“I do hope we’ll be back in the classroom soon. We realize how important classroom instruction is to students and we do not want to take that away,” Nero said. "We are living in a different world right now, but we are all going to do the best we can and hopefully we’ll be back in school before we know it.”

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