While it has only been four days into the first week that Wilton Public Schools have been operating under an updated “mask optional” policy set by the district, school officials are reporting things have been “very, very smooth,” in the words of Superintendent Kevin Smith.
At Thursday evening’s (March 3) Board of Education meeting, Smith called his update “a good news report” on how the district has fared so far in its new approach to the current COVID-19 situation.
“Across the district, kids have been excellent to each other, you know they’ve taken the transition in stride,” he said, before informing the Board that the current number of cases in the district stood at 12. Given that students and teachers had just returned from a week of February break when presumably many people had traveled or socialized, Smith said that the numbers “have been very good.”
“We had, I think, a total of 12 cases reported across the week. Monday we had eight coming right out of the break; Tuesday, we had zero reported; Wednesday, we had four; today we had zero reported again. So that’s all very good news,” Smith tallied.
With case data continuing to decline in Wilton and across Fairfield County, Smith told the board that he’s expecting the trends to continue, presenting the district with the opportunity to further roll back mitigation strategies.
Earlier Thursday, Smith emailed an update to school families and staff that officials have opted to revert back to traditional transportation routines, allowing children to take school buses to playdates and locations other than their own routes home. He said that change would likely be implemented starting Monday, March 7.
Looking further out, Smith said he’s eyeing March 14 for the next milestone, giving his administrators two more weeks to observe any more changes in COVID numbers before making further adjustments to mitigation strategies. Possibilities include walking back restrictions in music and physical education classes to pre-pandemic practices and “repopulating” the cafeterias. Specifics will be determined once Smith meets with the building principals to hear their priorities.
BOE chair Deborah Low was pleased by what Smith said. “I want to thank Dr. Smith and the whole staff and the families for making the transition to ‘masks optional’ go smoothly. It’s a wonderful and welcome step.”
The Student Perspective
Smith invited four Wilton High School students to speak to the board to provide their perspectives on how the year has gone so far, especially in the last few weeks, leading up to the last four days of mask-optional policy.
What the students told the school officials seemed very encouraging, with generally positive feedback.
“This year compared to last year, especially with everyone there, it’s been a lot more engaging. I’m able to see my friends every single day, which is really, really good for my mental health. I am really, really looking forward, we’re having our junior prom in May, so I’m really looking forward to that,” said junior Joy Ren.
Senior Avery Baumel agreed, and added that the students were taking an active role in making sure things were being done in a safe way in order to keep moving forward.
“It’s been great to see all of the students coming together to do things to get us that little way back to normal. The seniors really wanted to have The Jungle back as a space for us to sit and hang out. It’s just been really great to see that everyone is really committed to following those rules and making sure that we can maintain those spaces in a safe way — especially because the past two years have been a little bit crazy,” she said. “The entire school community has really been trying to do what’s been asked of us and make sure that we can have even those smaller things, like the jungle tables and the cafeteria have just made such a difference. Everyone’s been really excited about getting those opportunities back.”
For freshman Skylar Reading, just being able to be in-person starting in the fall was something she appreciated. But it’s only gotten better in the last four days.
“Since we’ve dropped the mask mandate, a lot of my friends have noted that the school seems so much brighter being able to see people smile. I think people really love that.”
Sophomore Shawn Gregory echoed that sentiment, referencing the hundreds of fellow WHS students who, at the same time as the BOE meeting, were across the street in the Zeoli Field House watching the WHS boys basketball team play in the FCIAC finals.
“The biggest thing I’ve noticed is the sudden resurge of school spirit, taking pride in Wilton High School. It’s seeing the little things, like in the cafeteria talking to people, new connections to teachers. I also see it in bigger things, like Homecoming, prom, … the FCIAC championships… That’s something that I really didn’t notice last year and I’m really happy to have back this year as a sophomore going into junior year,” Gregory said.
He also complimented his fellow students for behaving in a respectful way toward one another.
“The mask mandate went really well. I think that students are respecting [others’] decisions whether to wear masks or take them [off], irrespective of their own choices. Even students who don’t wear masks are still careful to observe protocols. They’re not reckless with COVID protocols. Irrespective of wearing or not wearing masks, students across the community are still concerned with, and thinking about safety procedures that will then apply to the rest of this year and the future beyond,” Gregory added.
Low asked the students to look back and share what part of the pandemic experience has had the biggest impact or challenged them the most.
Their answers all struck on the same thing: their community’s resilience, perseverance, and sense of collective responsibility.
“The thing that stuck out most … is the perseverance of what people can do when they’re together… The idea that we got through the entire [2020-2021] school year — we were remote some parts, we were in cohorts other parts — and then we finally were back to full in-person [in 2021-2022], the idea that we were able to navigate that and the ups and downs that came with it, and the idea that as a school community we came together, teachers and students, and rode the wave of the pandemic and of the virus, that was really incredible to be a part of. If I looked back on this in 10 years, that’s what I’d be most proud of myself, my peers, and just the entire community for doing,” Gregory said.
It was her classmates’ engagement that made the biggest impression on Baumel.
“What stuck out to me the most was just how much people were trying to make this exciting and bringing back the traditions that we’ve all missed so much. Especially during spirit week and homecoming and all of that, people were just 110% every single day. Having those really exciting moments, where everyone’s able to come together and show our spirit and have that community together, it’s always fun in any year, but especially with COVID. It was something that really allowed us to get through this year, knowing that we had this community,” she said.
For the freshman in the group, how the school handled such an unprescedented situation is what most impressed her.
“That we had the ability to adapt to so many things that we were put through is something that I think I’ll really remember. If you told me five years ago, that the idea of learning all online or learning in cohorts would’ve happened, I would’ve been like, ‘Oh, that doesn’t make sense, how would that work?’ But as a school and as almost as a nation and the world, we were able to adapt to these changes and do the best that we could,” Reading said, adding, “I think that’s something that I’ll remember for a long time.”
Wilton’s Risk Lowers
Wilton’s declining case rate has helped lower the town’s risk classification. Now that the CT Department of Public Health (CT-DPH) shows Wilton’s two-week daily average case rate (per 100,000) has dropped to 11.7, lowering the town’s risk level from red to orange (as of Feb. 26, 2022).
In all, there have been 13 new cases in Wilton in the past week, as reported by the CT-DPH — a 50% drop from the week before.
However, GOOD Morning Wilton‘s data is more current and reflects case data as of March 2, 2022, showing an even lower rate — 9.76 cases, the lowest it’s been since November. That number puts Wilton at the yellow risk level (see below).
In another encouraging sign, more people in Wilton have been vaccinated and boosted: in the last week, 30 people initiated the vaccine process; 26 people received the second dose; and 94 residents completed the series with a booster shot.
- In all, 95.26% of Wilton residents have gotten the first dose, 85.52% have received the second dose and 51.8% are boosted.
- Of eligible residents, 98.17% started the vaccine process, 88.13% received a second dose, and 53.38% finished the vaccination series. (With 5-11-year-olds ineligible to receive a booster, it’s most accurate to say that 61.45% of people who are eligible to receive a booster shot, have.)
Here’s how Wilton’s population breaks down by age group:
Correction: An earlier version of the story misidentified one of the students. Her name has been corrected.