BREAKING NEWS–March 13, 4:45 p.m.–Wilton Public Schools will announce the district’s plan for moving forward on Friday afternoon. The key points help give some definition to the school community about how long schools may be closed, and what learning will look like during that time.

What does “closed until further notice” REALLY mean?

Superintendent Kevin Smith tells GOOD Morning Wilton that the timeline for how long Wilton Public Schools will be closed is something that has been developed in close consultation with Wilton’s health director Barry Bogle. For now, the schools will be closed at least through next Friday, March 20. At that time, Smith and Bogle will reassess to determine if the period of closure needs to be extended.

“At least we can give families something a little more specific for now,” Smith said.

When will distance learning begin and what will it look like?

District staff will begin distributing information to families and students starting this evening and over the weekend. What the district is calling “e-learning” will begin in earnest on Monday, March 16, at 9 a.m., when Google classrooms will officially open.

There will be “a range of age-appropriate assignments” for students to work on and daily plans outlining work that will be provided to students.

What it won’t look like is live teaching; there will be no live or recorded lectures, no group video conferences. Students will work at their own pace and on their own.

As for the rigor of the work? In Smith’s words, the work that students will be assigned for now “is not going to advance learning.” He described it as “enrichment” and “maintenance”–work that will allow students to “practice.”

District staff has been working over the last couple of weeks in order to rapidly pull together plans for the next two weeks. That’s as long as the district hopes “maintenance learning” will have to last.

“No one is comfortable with maintenance,” he admits. “It’s difficult because we have to do this within the constraints of what the [state Board of Education] will grant a waiver for.” That’s in reference to what Smith has said previously about being able to provide appropriate learning for all of Wilton’s students. As it stands now, Wilton’s system of distance learning cannot appropriately accommodate all students, especially what Smith has called the district’s “most complex learners.”

As a result, as planned now, Wilton’s e-learning will not count toward the state’s 180-day requirement. That means any days students are working from a distance still will have to be made up–either added onto the end of the year or perhaps elsewhere.

Until now, Smith and his senior administrative team–central office and building principals–have been working via virtual meetings. On Monday, March 16, this core group will be able to meet in person in the administrative offices and “will dig deep to see what we come up with” in case distance learning needs to continue beyond two weeks.

Does this work ‘count’? Will students be graded?

Smith used the “O” word in his answer. “Because this is optional for students, they will not be graded,” he said. [Editor’s note:  Whether or not parents want to share that with their students is optional as well.]

Does distance learning come at a cost to the district?

Consider everything an unbudgeted expense. Because the school is technically closed, everything will have to be made up at another time–time that falls outside of the teacher’s contracted time.

Per the conditions of the negotiated contract, each teacher will have to be paid $100 per day that is not a current day on the school calendar.

“If you do the math, that’s $60,000-$65,000 per week,” Smith says.

As for whether there is any relief from state or federal funding, that remains to be seen. It was something Smith had been hopeful for when Gov. Lamont made his emergency declaration earlier in the week and then followed that on Thursday, March 12, with modifications to the 180-day waiver law. Unfortunately, says Smith, that modification didn’t include anything about funding.

It’s still wait-and-see following Pres. Trump’s emergency declaration today. But for the time being, distance learning will still begin on Monday.

Is there cleaning of the buildings going on now?

Yes, says Smith. That started the evening of his announcement that schools were closing on Wednesday, March 11. Jose Figueroa and the rest of the custodial staff are working to clean one building at a time. They’ve started with the high school, and will move on to Middlebrook, and so on.

Smith said there’s also a plan for district custodians to support the work to clean Comstock Community Center as well.