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Bethel Public Schools Superintendent Releases Letter About New Guidelines from CT State to Determine Learning Models During COVID

Report by Paula Antolini, October 22, 2020, 4:43PM EDT

Message from Dr. Christine Carver, Superintendent of Bethel Public Schools, October 22, 2020:

I sent this communication today, I wanted to be sure everyone saw it! Also, the state released new guidance today (linked below) which outlines the process by which districts should take when determining a learning model (in-person, hybrid or remote). I thought you might find it informative.

Dear Parents, Guardians, and Staff, and Community Members:

I received some feedback yesterday regarding the need for clarification regarding my letter dated October 21, 2020 (Community COVID Update). First, we have no immediate plans to switch from a full in-person to a hybrid model of instruction. As outlined in the letter, any shift in model (from full in- person, to hybrid, or to remote) is based on the guidance from the Department of Public Health, Connecticut School Learning Model Indicators, which is updated bi-weekly (14 day rolling average). The first indicator in decision making is to look at cases per 100,000 by county. When we began the school year, cases were between 2 – 3 per 100,000 for Fairfield County. This week’s data is 6.4 cases per 100,000. According to DPH, when a county reaches 10 per 100,000, we need to look at secondary indicators to determine if we need to consider shifting our learning model. The point of my letter was to alert you to the change in some of the metrics and urge us all as a community to implement mitigation strategies to keep our transmission rates low, so we can maintain our current learning model.

Because we have data on how the virus is spreading in our community, we need to renew our vigilance to the following mitigation measures:

Wearing a mask or cloth face covering.

Maintain social distancing.

Monitor your health for COVID-19 symptoms and stay home if you are sick.

Wash your hands frequently.

Avoid social gatherings (including within families). Almost all of the current cases are a result of social gatherings outside of school, which is getting worse because people are getting together indoors.

If someone in your household is ill and has symptoms of COVID-19, they should immediately isolate themselves from the members of the household to avoid spread within families. This is becoming increasingly more common.

Contact your medical provider if you have any COVID-19 symptoms to discuss your illness and whether you should get a PCR COVID-19 test. CT Testing Locator

If you are asked to quarantine as a direct contact, please follow all guidelines including staying at home.

I hope this provides clarity from yesterday’s message. We are planning to keep our current instructional model. Again, the purpose of the letter was to alert you to the change in some of the metrics and reinforce the mitigation strategies to keep our students and staff safe and healthy. With the holidays coming up and rising metrics, it is more important than ever to implement these mitigation measures.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to email me at carverc@bethel.k12.ct.us.

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Carver refers to this document:

View the Connecticut State Department of Education “Addendum 4”, “Adapt, Advance, Achieve: Connecticut’s Plan to Learn and Grow Together,” “Updated Guidance for Decision-Making Regarding the Use of In-Person, Hybrid (Blended), or Remote Learning Models in Connecticut Schools during COVID-19″ from October 21, 2020, which reads in part:

“In order to guide decisions on remote vs. in-person learning for Pre-K–12 education, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) and Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) have developed key metrics and considerations for informing local district decision-making. Decisions on whether districts will operate in a full in-person model, a fully-remote model, or some mix of in-person and remote learning (hybrid) should be based on indicators of the spread and prevalence of COVID-19 in the community and on the physical and operational ability of school districts to implement critical mitigation strategies. Decision-making should happen in light of these considerations and in consultation with local health departments, school medical advisors, and municipal leaders.

“For the key leading metric for community spread, we recommend using the number of new cases, adjusted for population (Table 1). Although thresholds are suggested here that align with the Harvard Global Health Institute’s publication The Path to Zero and Schools: Achieving Pandemic Resilient Teaching and Learning Spaces, these benchmarks are not absolute, but rather should be viewed as a continuum, and in the context of school-based mitigation strategies, to assist district administrators
in making decisions that are appropriate for their individual school dynamics. In addition, there are several secondary indicators that can help inform decisions, when considered for the directional trend and speed of change of the data.

“Because the size of Connecticut’s population is relatively small in comparison to many other states, infection and disease rates for many conditions (including COVID-19) can become extremely unstable
as statewide statistics are analyzed by smaller geographic areas. As such, analyzing any of the suggested leading or secondary indicators at the individual town or school district level in our state may result in rates that are too unstable to be of any use in continuous decision-making. In addition, assessment of data metrics on a daily basis can lead to unnecessary action on the part of schools due to the variations in case reporting day-over-day. As such, DPH will provide analysis on a weekly basis of the average daily metrics for the previous complete 14-day case reporting period, in order to smooth datapoints over time for case numbers that can be highly variable.”

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Additional considerations for school decision-making:

While leading and secondary indicators give school decision-makers a sense for the level of COVID-19 spread in the community surrounding their schools, there are also many structural and procedural considerations within school districts and individual school buildings that administrators should assess on a continual basis, as these may also influence whether school districts should consider more or less in-person instruction. As part of their decision-making process, district administrators, local health directors and elected officials, and school medical advisors should include consideration of the following “Other Key School Characteristics.”

• Design of the physical space:

– Classroom space available for physical distancing
– Outdoor space
– Entrance/Exit design to avoid crowding
– Overall population of school

• Cohorting:

– Ability of the school to consistently group students in small cohorts and minimize inter- action with other cohorts throughout the school day

• Compliance with self-screening:

– Frequency of students and staff arriving at school with symptoms of COVID-19
– Frequency of students and staff attempting to return to school with symptoms of COVID-19

• Ventilation (Central and Non-Central HVAC):

– Well-functioning and maintained central HVAC system(s) (or the functional equivalent) are in place

• Cleaning and Disinfection:

– Plans in place in accordance with DPH and SDE guidance regarding cleaning protocols
– Adequate supplies and implementation of Cleaning and Disinfection plan

• Person-density:

– The number of individuals present inside the school building at any given time
– The effect of increasing or decreasing person-density on the ability to fully implement mitigation strategies (e.g., per-person ventilation, cohort sizes, cleaning schedules, etc.)
– Person-density can be reduced either through programmed hybrid scheduling or as a
result of students voluntarily “opting-in” to remote learning

Read more and view charts in the “Addendum 4” here.

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