To the Editor:
I sent the below letter to the Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith on Tuesday to address two concerns related to COVID and re-entry–expanded class sizes, and academic standards for the upcoming school year. I appreciate our school board, administration and teachers are working hard to plan for this upcoming year of learning and that they haven’t had a chance to share all of their thinking with us. I also appreciate that many families, like ours, are struggling with how we will approach this school year.
I am a numbers person and use data to guide my decisions. Connecticut enjoys a lower rate of infection because we have had strict limits in place. We know there is a strong correlation with indoor herding and the spread of COVID cases in other states. Currently, Connecticut limits indoor gatherings to 25 people. Childcare programs are limited in class size to no more than 14 children.
“This ‘let’s pack them in’ approach concerns me. It flies in the face of the common sense, phased approach that the state has taken to date in every other sector.“
The “full reopening” approach encouraged by the State and being considered by our school district would expose each child to 20-24 children; for a family with two children, that would mean exposure to 40-48 families, and for those of us with three school-age children, that would mean exposure to 60-72 families. Furthermore, our District is planning to open before- and after-school care, which, while convenient, would expand the level of risk and exposure significantly. What that means for us is that because there is a lack of containment, one family with COVID could set off cascading infections, and we could very likely be experiencing school closures “on and off” as described in Wednesday’s School’s Re-Entry Committee meeting.
This “let’s pack them in” approach concerns me. It flies in the face of the common sense, phased approach that the state has taken to date in every other sector. I also do not want to have to choose between hiring my own teaching staff to support homeschooling for the year or quitting my job, nor should I need to in order to keep our family safe.
Connecticut has demonstrated success with a phased approach to opening businesses and other activities. Perhaps we should consider a phased approach to opening our schools–starting with a hybrid opening of “split classes” limited to 10-12 children and, if successful and when the numbers allow, moving to a Phase 2 which may allow for more amenities like before- and after-school care.
I know we aren’t the only family struggling with this decision. I encourage families to please join me in reaching out to the people making these critical decisions:
State Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona; the Wilton Board of Education; our state legislators: State Sen. Will Haskell, State Rep. Gail Lavielle, and State Rep. Tom O’Dea.
Please join me in encouraging our officials to consider “middle of the road” options for school openings, and, above all, to respect smaller cohorts of children so that we may have a chance to contain COVID and limit the risk of exposure to our families.
Emily Mueller DuBrock
Dear Wilton Board of Education,
I know that starting this school year has already been a lot of work, and thank you for your time and all of the work you’ve been doing on behalf of our students and families.
I have two concerns about re-opening:
Cohort sizes: Earlier in the pandemic, we heard that students would be grouped in cohorts no larger than 10. Last week, after we completed the brief survey, we heard that the district was contemplating class/cohort sizes of up to 24 children.
Full Classes: In a cohort of 24 children:
- A family with two school-age children would be exposing themselves to 48 other families
- A family with three school-age children would be exposing themselves to 72 other families
- This situation feels like we are creating a tinder box, a situation in which we will not have any school open for very long before the viral spread forces closures.
Split Classes: If we contemplate splitting each class of 24 into two groups of 10-12 each, and having each group of 10-12 attending school alternating weeks, school from home on the off weeks, we could significantly limit the risk:
- A family with two school-age children would be exposing themselves to 20-24 other families
- A family with three school-age children would be exposing themselves to 30-36 other families
- Splitting classes into two groups would allow our schools to be open longer, and for our teachers to develop real relationships with the children that could extend when they need to attend school remotely.
I strongly urge you to reconsider the cohort size, and reducing it down from the 20-24 children suggested to smaller sizes like the 10-child limit suggested earlier in the pandemic.
Lack of academic expectations: As I wrote Dr. Smith in early June, the standards of distance learning in the spring were so low that many students that are at or above grade level were done with schoolwork after an hour or so, and missed the challenges of real, in-person school. Work was optional. Any tests were canceled–even those that the children already had been prepared for before the school closed. My 6th grader memorized all of the Central American countries and their capitals, only to be told the test was canceled once homeschooling began. The children didn’t even need to send in their school work. My 2nd and 3rd graders worked diligently on the Tangy Tuesday math, but when I sent it in the teachers said they didn’t need to see it. Instead, they were expected to watch videos of teachers reading books to them and were bored to death. These examples happened over and over again. Phantom work with no checks and no testing that they actually learned the materials. This is no way to learn. Kids need challenges.
We must do better as we head into this new school year. We cannot manage by lowest common denominator. For kids at or above grade level, can we please get back to real school where we are filling their brains with wonder and challenge–whether it be at home or at school?
Many families are anticipating the lack of learning to continue this year, and so they are making plans to hire their own teachers and develop their own curriculum to challenge and interest their children. Will we get school funds to support these types of solutions?
‘Accept lower standards’ or ‘hire your own teachers’ both feel like ridiculous solutions. I am hoping the BOE and wonderful Wilton school system can come up with a better answer. I would really hope we could step back into our winning curriculum and away from the boring videos for the next school year.
Perhaps, the school could use this time to be creative with solutions. We could create smaller cohorts that most parents would be more comfortable with, and provide class extensions to do special projects or teach advanced methods for students who are interested. I would even pay an additional fee for advanced classes.
We have been trolling the bottom of standards since March. Lowering standards may serve some students, but it will also alienate students who enjoy learning and need challenge and cause so many to HATE school which is a terrible consequence for young people.
I am a huge proponent of Wilton schools and am happy to do anything to support. What is the best way to give feedback and help with this solution?
Emily Mueller DuBrock