Wilton Public Schools has been steadfast about trying to keep schools open to students, despite almost daily notifications of new cases. That changed as of Monday afternoon, Nov. 16, for one of Wilton’s four schools–Cider Mill School.

Cider Mill teachers were notified by the school’s principal, Dr. Jennifer Falcone, that the school would be transitioning to an all-remote model for two weeks, beginning Tuesday, Nov. 17.

“Cider Mill School Students will be switching to a remote learning model beginning tomorrow (Nov. 17) through Wednesday, Dec.2. At this time, we plan to have students return to on-site learning beginning Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. This does not impact the rest of the schools,” Falcone wrote in an email.

Superintendent Kevin Smith confirmed the news to GOOD Morning Wilton, that Cider Mill would transition to full remote for 14 days beginning Tuesday. He added that there are nine new cases district-wide today, including three new cases at Cider Mill. What’s more, at Cider Mill alone, there are 18 staff members and over 100 students in quarantine.

The decision to change models was made by district administrators in conjunction with Wilton’s Health Director Barry Bogle and the district’s medical advisor, Dr. Christine Macken.

According to Falcone’s email, staff will work remotely on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 17-18, “to allow for a deep cleaning of the building.”

The email sent by Falcone confirms suspicions that several parents expressed on social media beginning Monday afternoon, as several posted on Facebook that their children came home from school with backpacks full of all their in-school belongings, saying that their teachers had warned about a possible two-week closure.

Cider Mill was scheduled to have half days beginning Thursday, Nov. 19 through Tuesday, Nov. 24 for parent conferences. According to Falcone’s email, “staff are expected to work on-site at Cider Mill and teach remotely from their classrooms.”

The email also noted that any staff members who have been notified and advised to quarantine “due to recent cases” should follow the dates you were given.

Case Increases in Other Schools, Possible Changes Being Made

Also Monday, Wilton High School administrators notified ninth-grade students and their parents that the in-person PSATs that the freshmen were scheduled to take on Wednesday, Nov. 18, would be rescheduled.

An email from WHS Assistant Principal Greg Theriault explained that administrators were asked to postpone the standardized exam “due to COVID-19 concerns.”

Smith said that the health director had asked for the change.

“Barry Bogle asked us to reconsider any and all activities that are not essential,” he said, adding that he’s looking to see what else may be planned across the district in the near future.

Smith sent an email to the wider Wilton Public Schools community shortly before 5 p.m. announcing Cider Mill’s two-week learning model change, and he also reported the additional case numbers for the district’s three other schools. He called the numbers “concerning” and noted, “We continue to monitor each new case carefully as we make thoughtful decisions about our learning models.”

He explained the reasoning behind temporarily closing Cider Mill to in-person learning:

“This decision is not made lightly and is a result of both the rise in cases at Cider Mill as well as the impact of those cases on our ability to staff sufficiently for in-person instruction,” he wrote, adding, “Beyond the severe impact of COVID-19 in this community, we are also influenced by staff absences due to COVID-related school and childcare closures in other communities, absences resulting from seasonal illness, and a significant shortage of substitute teachers.”

In addition to Cider Mill’s three new cases, the other new cases in the district as of 4 p.m. included:

  • Miller-Driscoll School:  2 new cases
  • Middlebrook School:  1 new case
  • Wilton High School:  3 new cases

For now, the learning models in the other three schools will stay as they are:  Miller-Driscoll will remain in-person and Middlebrook and Wilton High School will remain in hybrid. However, Smith called the situation “dynamic” and said that “all school community members should be prepared to adjust to learning model changes in any of our schools.”

He acknowledged that the news about Cider Mill’s temporary model change as well as the possibility for change in other schools’ models is disappointing, especially for students “who get far more from being in school than they do from participating remotely.”

Smith said that there is no evidence of virus transmission happening in the schools, but rather “transmission seems to occur within families and through participation in youth athletics.”

As he has done in each communication to the wider school community, Smith asked that they “join our shared commitment to keeping our schools open for in-person learning by honoring mitigation strategies and evaluating participation in any activities that could result in exposure to COVID-19.”