Board of Ed to Meet Tonight, will Discuss WHS Athletics and COVID-19-Related Policy Changes

The Board of Education will hold a special meeting this evening at 7 p.m., and among the topics that members will discuss will be the district’s plan for restarting athletics at the high school as well as the adoption of several new policies and policy updates related to online learning and health and safety protocols, developed in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, including physical distancing and mask-wearing requirements.

The meeting will be conducted virtually on Zoom and is open to the public for viewing. Members of the public are welcome to submit comments by sending an email with “Public Comment” in the subject line and including their name and address in the body of the email. Comments will be read and reviewed during a public comment period at the beginning or end of the meeting.

Athletics

Last week the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference released its plan for moving ahead with fall sports, following multiple discussions about COVID-19-related safety for athletes with the CT State Department of Public Health.

Despite DPH concerns regarding athlete safety for football and indoor girls’ volleyball, CIAC okayed activities to begin for those two sports as well as for the other fall sports–cross country, swimming, soccer, and field hockey. The CIAC oversight board laid out a schedule for how training, practice, and an eventual return to play can occur, and said that teams could begin conditioning as of Saturday, Aug. 29.

Wilton High School athletes, are still waiting to return to any activities. In order for WHS athletics to begin, school officials needed to submit plans to Wilton Health Director Barry Bogle for sign-off on any plans moving forward.

During last Thursday’s BOE meeting (Aug. 27), Superintendent Kevin Smith said WHS Athletic Director Chris McDougal that week had submitted initial “Return to Play” plans to Bogle, and that the health director had questions that required additional follow-up. Smith added that McDougal would be trying to meet with Bogle on Friday, Aug. 28, and hoped to get sports started as soon as possible, before Sept. 8.

“Once we get the all-clear from Barry Bogle after he’s gone through our plans and Chris has made the modifications he needs, we’re hoping to begin our preseason conditioning activities for all fall sports per the CIAC and DPH,” Smith told the BOE. “We’re doing our best to work as quickly as possible to get conditioning up as soon as possible, hopefully before Sept. 8.”

McDougal had no update as of Sunday, Aug. 30, telling GOOD Morning Wilton in an email that he would be revising the Return to Play plan for WHS sports and that athletics still were “on hold until Sept. 8th”.

According to Ryan Masterson, president of the Wilton Warrior Gridiron Club, the parent booster organization for WHS Football, Smith and McDougal have worked on a revised plan to present to Bogle at a meeting today (Sept. 3).

Masterson said he, along with other booster club officers and team coach EJ Dinunzio are supposed to meet with Smith today as well for an update on the situation. One area of discussion is whether the district will be able to follow CIAC guidelines on Football, which allows more contact than DPH recommendations do. Smith has said that the district will follow DPH guidelines.

Policy Updates

Also on the agenda are three policy updates and two new policies:

  • Student Responsible Use of District Technology (6141.321)
  • Suspension, Expulsion and Removal from Class (5144)
  • Regularity of Attendance (5113)
  • Visitors and Observers in Schools (NEW) (1250)
  • Concerning Health and Safety Protocols Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic (NEW) (6114.82)

Changes/Additions to Student Responsible Use of District Technology (6141.321)

Substantial new language has been proposed for this policy, outlining “protocols for successful live remote and hybrid experiences.”

This includes specific expectations for student conduct during video conferencing, especially around the topics of privacy, online etiquette, behavior, and rules.

Key expectations that have been part of discussions between the district and the teachers’ union regarding cameras and remote live learning as part of classroom procedures revolve around privacy. These policy changes specify that students are not permitted to take screenshots or other materials to share with others, and also that students will not be allowed to record audio or video from any virtual class, although teachers may provide recorded sessions via Schoology.

One proposed addition raised questions when it was introduced at last week’s Board of Education meeting:  that individuals at home “other than the student” are not permitted to participate or be visible, or observe online lessons. Given that younger students and other learners may require adult assistance during online learning, school officials emphasized that the policy includes an “important caveat”:  “other than reasonable supervision of the student.”

“We certainly understand and want to support parents who are at home with our youngest learners and need to support them as they are engaging and promote learning. What we’re aiming to do here is to strike a balance between student privacy and parents and students who need to have adult support at home. But we are not prohibiting parents from supporting their students at home, not at all. That’s not the intention of this provision,” Smith said.

Director of Digital Learning for the district Fran Kompar added that the policy change is intended to protect privacy and confidentiality of other children in the classroom.

“The ask is really one of maintaining confidentiality about other children in the classroom, just like you would in a physical classroom where you might visit and you might see something that needs to be confidential. We just asked that the same be done if being there in the classroom with students at home,” Kompar explained.

As BOE member Mandi Schmauch reiterated, the addition aligns with similar policy already in existence. “Isn’t this kind of like our photo-taking policies? You can’t just walk into a classroom and start taking photos of other children and sharing it.”

Changes/Additions to Suspension, Expulsion and Removal from Class (5144)

The policy update proposals include updating the definitions of “school” and “classroom” to reflect the new virtual learning environment on internet-based platforms, as well as distinctions between synchronous and asynchronous learning.

Language has been added to create standards for behavior related to the possibility of suspension and expulsion, that now weave in health and safety protocols developed in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, inlcuding:

  • “Acting in any manner that creates a health and/or safety hazard for staff members, students, or the public, regardless of whether the conduct is intended as a joke, including but not limited to violating school district health and safety protocols, developed in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as, but not limited to, physical distancing and mask-wearing requirements.”
  • “Using computer systems, including email, distance learning platforms, instant messaging, text messaging, blogging, or the use of social networking websites, or other forms of electronic communications, to engage in any conduct prohibited by this policy and regulation.”

It also adds language that any hearing regarding potential expulsion may be held virtually via video conference.

The policy already includes a section regarding “Suspension for Conduct off school Grounds,” although no language specific to COVID-19 protocols was added to this section.

Addition to Regularity of Attendance Policy (5113)

Language has been added to this policy requiring excuse notes from parents/guardians approving a student absence due to student illness to include specific symptoms in order for the district to monitor potential COVID-19 trends.

That new language states:  “For any absence due to student illness, the signed note must include the specific symptom(s) exhibited by the student so that the district can monitor trends that would suggest the spread of COVID-19.”

NEW Visitors and Observers in Schools (1250)

This policy outlines visits and observations in the school by any individual who is not a student or staff member. Language related to COVID-19 protocols includes reference to such visitors complying with health and safety screening measures as well as whether the BOE can limit or restrict visits.

The relevant language states:  “All visitors and observers permitted into school buildings or on school grounds must comply with all school health and safety protocols in place at the time, including any health screening protocols. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the board may limit or restrict visitors based on the guidance of federal, state, and local health authorities.”

NEW Health and Safety Protocols Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic (6114.82)

This policy outlines measures, behaviors and compliance with health and safety protocols, making them “mandatory for all individuals while on school property or participating in a school-sponsored activity, unless a legally recognized exemption or exception applies.”

It notes that failure to comply with these protocols “may lead to disciplinary action for students and staff, and exclusion from school property or the school-sponsored activity for members of the community, in accordance with applicable laws, rules, regulations, and/or board policies.”