Schools: More Answers, More Cancellations (Incl. SATs) & Plans for Poss. Closure

Wilton school officials released an update at 6 p.m. on Monday evening, March 9, with some updated answers to questions and news about additional restrictions and moves the district is taking to prevent the possible spread of coronavirus. The update included more details about steps the district is taking in the possible event officials will close schools.

Acknowledging that some parents are frustrated and concerned, district administrators–superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith, assistant superintendent Dr. Charles Smith, and director of HR/general administration Maria Coleman–sent the letter in a Q&A format with what they said was as much updated information as possible. They addressed some of the biggest concerns that residents have been expressing on social media and in other venues.

Whether the Wilton resident who is the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 has children in the schools:

School administrators say they have absolutely no information on the person’s name, address, occupation, marital status, etc. and that they are not withholding any information from the school community. “We recognize that a lack of information can be frustrating, particularly in times of uncertainty, but we are not withholding information from you.”

They also say that they have been advised to keep schools open directly by the Wilton Health Department, and that the decision and processes are overseen by state agencies as well.

“Based on the information available to them at this time, we do not have reason to believe that holding school currently poses a risk to our students or staff. If we had reason to believe there was such a risk, we would be taking additional precautions including the possible closure of one or more schools,” they add.

On when a decision to close schools and move to online instruction will be made:

The administrators say they are in daily contact with town officials and the Wilton Department of Health, and any decision about school closure will be based upon the most up-to-date information available.

They say plans are being developed to “maintain continuity of instruction,” using technology in grades 3-12 “to mitigate potential disruptions in learning,” and hard copy materials for grades Pre-K-2.

The district will train staff on these protocols this Wednesday, March 11, after students have been sent home according to our early release schedule, and communication to parents will be sent home that evening (March 11).

Parents of students in grades 3-12 who would need a loaned device in the event of school closure are asked to complete a digital access surveyThis survey should only be completed by parents of students who need a loaned device.

All students and teaching staff are being asked to bring home devices and essential texts every evening, in preparation for potential unexpected school closings.

Whether students are risking exposure by attending class if after-school activities are postponed:

Smith, Smith and Coleman write that the decision to continue to hold classes was made “in consultation with our medical experts; we do not make it in isolation.” They add that limiting non-essential activities helps “…reduce the possibility of exposure by reducing opportunities for exposure to illness”–something they say is “consistent with social distancing…not always an ‘all or nothing’ approach.”

Whether there is a plan for medically fragile students:  

School officials say that parents of students with serious medical conditions, who are at high risk if they contract COVID-19, consult with their health care provider, and that any “recommendations from health care providers should be communicated immediately to the school nurse.”

If parents in consultation with their health care provider decide not to send their child to school, they should contact the building principal to discuss alternatives for completing classwork and homework. Under these circumstances, they say, students will not be penalized for remaining at home.

Other updates

  • As of Monday, March 9, the district has decided to postpone all building use outside of the school day through this Friday, March 13. Decisions beyond that will be made this week. This was decided so that recommended deep cleaning procedures can be conducted.
  • The SAT scheduled to be administered at Wilton High School on Saturday, March 14, has been cancelled. Officials say they are in communication with the College Board for alternative locations for students to take the test.
  • The products being used to deep clean are called Q.T.3, which are “left on hard surfaces (i.e. door knobs, desks, paper towel dispensers, fountains) for five minutes to ensure that a wide array of viruses are killed before the cleaner is wiped off.” Cleaning is done in the evenings.
  • The district now has a dedicated “Wilton Public Schools & Coronavirus Page” online on the school’s website.

Here is the text of the letter in full:

Dear Parents, Guardians, Caregivers and Colleagues,

We are sending this message in an effort to update you on the district’s continued response to COVID-19. We recognize the criticality of providing current information as we respond to a very fluid situation. As we all know, communities around the globe are responding to unprecedented challenges related to coronavirus. Each day, we are called upon to adapt and demonstrate flexibility in this time of uncertainty. Naturally, there are many questions related to big decisions about school schedules and group events. In an effort to be responsive to you, we include in this correspondence responses to some of the questions we’ve received over the past 24 hours. We hope you find this format easy to read and responsive to your many questions and concerns. We will continue to communicate regularly as we learn new information. Throughout all of this, please know we are committed to the safety and well-being of all members of our school community. We also want to reiterate the importance of attending to children’s social and emotional states. Please refer to the dedicated page on our website for general information about COVID-19 as well as tips and strategies for speaking to children.

In light of CT’s first presumptive positive case of COVID-19, which is a Wilton resident, can you confirm whether this individual is a parent with children in the schools?

We do not receive information about COVID-19 cases directly from hospitals or the CT State Department of Health. Our information comes directly from the Wilton Health Department, and the only confirmation that we have received is that we should keep schools open. District staff do not know the presumptive positive person’s name, address, occupation, marital status, etc. We recognize that a lack of information can be frustrating, particularly in times of uncertainty, but we are not withholding information from you. We have shared what we know for certain, which is that we have been advised to keep schools open. In addition, it is important to note that these processes are overseen by state and local agencies, and based on the information available to them at this time, we do not have reason to believe that holding school currently poses a risk to our students or staff. If we had reason to believe there was such a risk, we would be taking additional precautions including the possible closure of one or more schools.

What is the status of school-sponsored activities occurring outside of the school day?

In an effort to reduce the number of non-essential social gatherings, we made the decision last week to postpone school-sponsored activities through this Friday, March 13. School-sponsored activities include special events, field trips, clubs, activities, intramurals, and athletics (with the exception of tournaments that cannot be rescheduled and would lead to forfeiture). A class that meets outside of the school day (like ancient Greek at WHS, which only meets before school) and extra help have continued because they are considered to be extensions of the school day and do not involve very large groups. In addition, we continue to hold before and after-school childcare through Wilton Continuing Education because we recognize that parents depend on this service to meet their childcare needs, and we view it loosely as an extension to the school day. It should be noted that students are also not in very large groups in the extended day program. We will make decisions about possible postponements past March 13 this week, and we will communicate those decisions to you.

Why do you postpone after-school activities when students are together all day? Aren’t they risking exposure to illness if they interact at school?

At this time, we have been advised to continue to hold school. We make this decision in consultation with our medical experts; we do not make it in isolation. To date, we have been advised to limit non-essential activities that bring students and/or adults together. Doing so helps to reduce the possibility of exposure by reducing opportunities for exposure to illness. These practices are consistent with social distancing, which is an approach used globally in times of potential widespread illness. Social distancing is not always an “all or nothing” approach; even practicing social distancing strategically to target large group activities can be effective.

What is the status of outside organizations and building use of school buildings?

As of this afternoon, we made the decision to postpone all building use outside of the school day through this Friday, March 13. We made this decision in consultation with our director of facilities, custodial supervisor and the Wilton Department of Health. This decision is based on our desire to ensure we are following the deep-cleaning procedures recommended by our director of health and supervisory staff in custodial and maintenance services. We recognize that having people in our buildings after hours would require additional deep cleaning measures, and our ability to perform deep cleaning would likely be impacted if the buildings are being used in the evenings when custodial staff are expected to be performing this deep cleaning. We will make decisions about building use beyond March 13 this week and will communicate these decisions by the end of the week.

What is the status of the SAT exam scheduled to be administered at Wilton High School this weekend?

We will not administer the SAT that was scheduled for this Saturday, March 14. For those students who were registered to take the test, we are in communication with the College Board and will have information in the coming days about where and when they can take the test.

What cleaning agents are being used in our buildings and what protocols are being followed?

Last week, the district provided special training to our custodial staff as well as bus staff on the appropriate deep cleaning methods needed to combat illnesses like coronavirus, which they are now implementing. We are using a product called Q.T.3, which is being left on hard surfaces (i.e. door knobs, desks, paper towel dispensers, fountains) for five minutes to ensure that a wide array of viruses are killed before the cleaner is wiped off. This work is being done in the evenings. Analysis of many available cleaning products led to the determination that Q.T.3 is the best product to address our current needs.

In addition, we are ensuring all bathrooms and sink areas have adequate soap and paper towels, and we are checking with the schools to be sure we have enough tissues in the buildings.

How are you encouraging all students to take universal precautions?

Beginning today, 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. Students in the upper grades will not have specific time set aside to wash their hands, but are encouraged to self-monitor and take the initiative to wash regularly. In addition, we remind students to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their sleeve and to stay home if they are not feeling well. Students who suddenly feel unwell during the school day are advised to go to the nurse’s office for assessment. As noted above, we are ensuring schools have an adequate supply of soap, tissues, and paper towels to support these universal precautions.

What should we do if our child is not feeling well?

Please do not send your child to school if your child is not feeling well. We make this recommendation to all families throughout the school year, but it is particularly important in times of illness. For more information about when to send your child to school after he or she has been sick, please visit the health office page on our website.

What criteria do nurses use to determine when students should go home sick?

        • Fever of 100 degrees or higher
        • Vomiting
        • Diarrhea greater than one time
        • Severe sore throat
        • Severe earache
        • Conjunctivitis (pink eye) with discharge
        • Symptoms that prevent student from participating in learning:
            • Excessive tiredness or lack of appetite, headache, body aches, productive coughing

Is there a plan for students who are medically fragile?

All students are being instructed in universal precautions such as frequent and thorough handwashing, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, using hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available, etc. For students who are medically fragile, these precautions are even more critical.

It is also very important that parents of students with serious medical conditions, who are at high risk if they contract COVID-19, consult with their health care provider. Recommendations from health care providers should be communicated immediately to the school nurse. If parents in consultation with their health care provider decide not to send their child to school, they should contact the building principal to discuss alternatives for completing classwork and homework. Under these circumstances, students will not be penalized for remaining at home.

Recent developments (first presumptive positive case in Wilton) warrant considering a move to online instruction. When will a decision be made?

The Wilton Public Schools have been consulting daily with the Department of Health and with Wilton town officials. Any decision about school closure will be based upon the most up-to-date information available.

In regards to online instruction, our leadership team has been hard at work developing plans to maintain continuity of instruction. These plans leverage the use of technology in grades 3-12 to mitigate potential disruptions in learning. In grades Pre-K-2, staff are preparing hard copy developmentally appropriate materials for students to take home with them in the event of a school closure. Since last week, our district plan has been to train staff on these protocols this Wednesday, March 11, after students have been sent home according to our early release schedule. We will communicate information about this plan to all parents on the evening of March 11, after all certified staff have had the opportunity to become familiar with the plan during the training session that day.

In order to prepare for a potential school closing related to coronavirus, we ask that you complete the short survey found by following this link ONLY if your child in grades 3-12 is in need of a loaned device in the event of school closure:  digital access survey.

In addition, we are asking all students and teaching staff to bring home their devices and essential texts every evening, in order to prepare for a potential unexpected school closing. Doing so will help ensure that teachers and students have items at home that will support learning offsite.

Where can I find information regarding Wilton Public Schools & coronavirus (COVID-19)?

For your convenience, we’ve created a page on our website to serve as a central location for information related to the coronavirus. Information will be added as it becomes available.

Where can I find up-to-date information from the town?

Follow this link for updates from First Selectwoman Vanderslice.

We recognize that there is a need for information, particularly during this time of uncertainty, and we hope the answers we’ve provided in this message are helpful. Rest assured that we will continue to provide you with additional information as it becomes available, and we will respond to additional questions in subsequent communications. 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,

Kevin J. Smith, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools

Charles Smith
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction

Maria Coleman
Director of Human Resources and General Administration