BREAKING: Wilton Schools Step Up Coronavirus Response: Cancelling After-School Activities, Increasing Hand-Washing, and Reassessing

UPDATE, SUNDAY, March 8, 2020, 2 p.m.–In an interview on Friday, Wilton Public Schools director of human resources and administration Maria Coleman elaborated on the school’s announcement to curtail after-school activities.

Coleman said that Continuing Education activities and lessons are also postponed; but as of Friday, extended day child care will still run next week.

“We see that as an extension of the school day and we also see that as a need for families who count on that for child care while they are at work. We also think about  potential exposure as being really limited because those are students that they’re in school with already,” she explained.

As for other organizations outside of district-sponsored events that school facilities in the evenings and on the weekends will be allowed to continue for the time being.

“Some of them are student organizations, some of them are adult organizations. The recommendations from the health department at this point were not to cancel all of those, but to increase our cleaning and follow our very stringent protocols now related to cleaning. They didn’t feel that it was necessary to cancel all of those events as well at this point. …just ensure that we’re doing a deep cleaning after those events are over,” Coleman explained.

Some students will be permitted to compete in athletic events.

“There are a few state tournament that’s some of our students are in. After consulting with the athletic director and the high school principal, we recognize that a postponement in any of those games would not be possible and would actually lead to us forfeiting the games. In light of the fact that we are taking the recommendation from the health department out of an abundance of caution and that there’s not an actual case right now, in weighing out the options we believe that it would be important for us to allow the students to compete because there’s not an option to postpone.”

What about Closing Schools?

What kind of incident or situation would trigger the district to decide to close the schools? Would it take a confirmed case of a student or faculty/staff member in the district? Or exposure to someone in district?

“Both of those things are possibilities. We’re working very closely with the Health Department to guide us in that regard. And you know, this is unprecedented, um, to a certain extent. If you look at something like the flu, typically we get to a certain percentage of students being out before we consider closing school. I don’t know that that is the protocol that we would follow in this case because we’re thinking about exposure in a slightly different way. So I don’t have the answer to that at this point because we’re really looking for guidance from the health department. All of the different health organizations are working closely together to determine what the trigger will be, and there may be different triggers that would lead to us closing school,” Coleman said.

“We’re working very closely with the Health Department, Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Fairfield County and the medical advisor for the district to be in constant communication and to make those decisions together. We’ve been in communication with the Health Department several times over the past several days and I anticipate that that level of communication will continue in the days to come, just to be sure that we’re being very responsive and that we’re adapting appropriately as the situation evolves,” she added.

Should the decision be made that schools need there to close, what details at this point can you could share with parents in terms of what that might look like or what kind of plans might happen for remote learning or “continuity of learning?”

“Continuity of learning is simply the plan to ensure that we continue to engage students even if they’re not physically present in school. So we have plans to leverage technology to do that, but we also recognize that technology will not be the only way that students can access the content because we also recognize that not everyone necessarily has access to technology. So we’re looking at variety of ways to make the learning accessible to students,” she said.

“Because the situation may change, we also all need to be prepared to be very flexible about what this is going to look like,” Coleman cautioned. “Our plan through the middle of next week [week of Monday, March 9] is to work on finalizing the initial plan, working with staff on that on Wednesday afternoon [March 11] and then communicating that very widely to the community. Parents can expect to receive more information about that by end of next week [March 12-13].

There are questions about the 180 day requirement that the State Department of Education has and what any kind of school closure means for that. How does that work and how can parents understand how that might impact everything?

“It’s still too soon to say what, if any concessions are going to need to be considered in this situation. We’re making a lot of plans for any and every scenario as is best practice whenever you’re preparing for an emergency. We don’t know what, if any changes are going to need to be made to the 180 day requirement that the state has in place. Past history has shown us that the state has not made concessions about the 180 days requirement, but again, this is a very different situation. If you look globally at what’s happening, people are having to make concessions and having to adapt. It just remains to be seen,” said Coleman.

“We’re really just trying to prepare for whatever scenario comes our way–it’s going to be all about flexibility. There’s definitely a collaborative spirit in the district to work to make things accessible to students and as supportive as possible. But a lot of this just remains to be seen based on what situation is it. If there is a school closure, it could be for a day, it could be for a few days, it could be for more than that. With that said, there could be no school closures whatsoever and that’s really what we’re hoping,” she added.

What else do you want parents to understand?

“We very much appreciate the support of our parent community and their understanding that we are sharing our plans as we develop them and that we’re needing to adapt relatively quickly as the situation changes. So naturally we’re all being flexible, patient and creative in response to the changing landscape. We’ll look forward to continuing to work through this and seeing this as an opportunity to do grow through our work together.”

BREAKING NEWS, Friday, March 6, 2020, 5 p.m.–As fears of coronavirus have mushroomed and the global impact has dominated headlines, Wilton Public School officials have made the call to curtail most after-school activities and other non-essential events as a precaution.

Although no confirmed cases of coronavirus/COVID-19 have been reported in Connecticut, and no medical concern specific to Wilton predicated this announcement from the school district, school officials made the decision “out of an abundance of caution.”

In a letter to the school community sent at 3:30 p.m. Friday, March 6, school administrators updated families and staff members about procedures that have been implemented. They wrote that they “continue to monitor the situation very closely,” and cite the district’s “current approach [which] is intended to be both proactive and responsive.”

The letter is signed by assistant superintendent Charles Smith and director of human resources and administration Maria Coleman.

Administrators have assessed what activities are being conducted in the district and will be postponing all field trips, after-school activities, school-sponsored special events, and athletic activities in the buildings, “in an effort to engage in only the most essential group activities (i.e. the regular school day).” That decision stands through next Friday, March 13, when the situation will be reassessed again. Officials will communicate the plan beyond March 13 “by the end of next week.”

Smith and Coleman wrote that the decision was made in consultation with local health professionals, including the Wilton Health Department, Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Fairfield County (the agency that provides the school nurses to the district) and the district’s medical advisor; as well as with updates from the CT State Department of Education and the governor’s office.

The district will also begin a protocol of increased hand washing for all students, beginning next week:

“Beginning Monday, March 9, all students in grades Pre-K-5 will wash their hands after school arrival, before lunch, and after lunch; students in grades 6-12 will be encouraged to wash their hands as needed during the day.”

The district has also implemented more frequent and deeper cleaning procedures of all facilities and school buses, and added training of custodial and bus staff on “use of stronger cleaning agents and cleaning techniques appropriate for this situation.”

Should the schools need to close, the district is developing “learning continuity plans”; Friday’s communication didn’t have details beyond stating that information on that would be forthcoming next week.

According to the Hartford Courant, 13 out of 18 state residents who have been tested for the virus have tested negative, and five more are still pending. No positive cases have been reported in CT as of Thursday evening. The CT Mirror reported that 200 people in the state are currently being monitored for the virus by their own medical professionals–something the CT Department of Public Health is aware of and following. Moreover, state officials have acknowledged that untold numbers of other people may have shown symptoms and have been told to stay home.

Gov. Ned Lamont has asked for additional test kits from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

GOOD Morning Wilton has reached out to Maria Coleman for additional information.

The story is developing and will be updated accordingly.

District COVID-19 Update Email, March 6, 2020

Dear Parents, Guardians, Caregivers, and Colleagues, 

We are writing to update you on our school district’s ongoing response to the coronavirus, or COVID-19.  As of this morning, we have not had any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our state; however, we recognize that neighboring states have had confirmed cases, and we continue to monitor the situation very closely.  Our current approach is intended to be both proactive and responsive. Thus far, we have implemented a number of procedures out of an abundance of caution.  Over the past several weeks, we have engaged in the following practices:

    • Regular contact with the Wilton Health Department, Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Fairfield County, and our district’s medical advisor
    • Continuous updates from the Connecticut State Department of Education and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont
    • Mobilization of our district-wide emergency operations committee
    • More frequent, deeper cleaning protocols in all of our facilities as well as school buses
    • Training of custodial and bus staff on the use of stronger cleaning agents and cleaning techniques appropriate for this situation
    • Development of learning continuity plans in the event of school closure; information on the plans will be distributed next week
    • Increased handwashing for all students (beginning Monday, March 9, all students in grades Pre-K-5 will wash their hands after school arrival, before lunch, and after lunch;  students in grades 6-12 will be encouraged to wash their hands as needed during the day)

In addition to the aforementioned practices, we have been assessing all afterschool activities and school-sponsored special events in our buildings. In an effort to engage in only the most essential group activities (i.e. the regular school day), we have decided to postpone all fieldtrips, after-school, and athletic activities (with the exception of state tournaments that cannot be rescheduled) through next Friday, March 13.  We made this decision after consulting with our health professionals, who recommended that we do so as a precautionary measure.  We will continue to assess the situation and communicate the plan beyond March 13 by the end of next week.  We recognize that the postponement of the afterschool events in the week ahead will likely inconvenience and disappoint students and families, and we appreciate your support as we work through the uncertainty of this situation.

You may be wondering what you can do to support the well-being of your student(s) at this time.  While we do not want to heighten anxiety, we recognize the need to be responsive to the various needs of our students in times of uncertainty.  To that end, we have included some recommendations below.

      1. Continue to take universal precautions:
        • Wash hands often and vigorously with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, before and after eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
        • Cover coughs and sneeze into a tissue, your elbow, or shoulder – not your hands.
        • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth to prevent the spread of germs.
        • After being home sick, students should be fever-free for 24 hours without fever reducing medications before returning to school.
      2. Refrain from shaking hands, hugging, or making unnecessary physical contact with others. Do not share food, drinks, or eating utensils with others.
      3. Be informed. We are including some resources you may choose to share with your child.  While we have viewed the content, we ask that you preview each item in order to decide whether it is appropriate for your child’s age.

“Just For Kids: A Comic Exploring the Coronavirus”
“Talking to Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource”
“Talking to Teens and Tweens About Coronavirus” – NYT Article
Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus
CDC Coronavirus Disease 2019
CT Dept. of Public Health 2019 NOVEL CORONAVIRUS (2019-NCOV)

Thank you for your understanding and flexibility. We will keep you apprised of updates to our processes in the days and weeks to come. Should you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact Assistant Superintendent Charles Smith (curriculum and instruction) Assistant Superintendent Andrea Leonardi (special services), Director of Human Resources and General Administration Maria Coleman (emergency operations), or your building principal.

Best regards,

Charles Smith
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction

Maria Coleman
Director of Human Resources and General Administration