Wilton Schools Gear Up for Back-to-School, with Guidelines on Masks, Vaccines and COVID Protocols

In just 11 days, students will return to Wilton Public Schools (WPS) for the first day of the 2021-22 school year on Monday, Aug. 30. In anticipation, Superintendent Kevin Smith emailed parents with a “Back to School Guide,” COVID-19 edition, providing the school community with details on precautions and procedures the district has established for returning to five-days-a-week, in-person learning.

“It is our goal to have school feel as ‘normal’ as possible, but we also recognize that the COVID-19 virus is still very much present in our community,” Smith wrote, underscoring that “the health and safety of our students and staff members is our first priority.”

Smith will be discussing the return to school at the Board of Education‘s first regular meeting of the school year tonight, Thursday, Aug. 19, at 7 p.m.  The meeting is a hybrid of in-person and zoom. and the agenda is posted online. Members of the public are able to attend in person (at the WPS Professional Library) although there is limited seating in the room (and additional seating right outside). Masks are required for in-person attendees.

[Editor’s note:  GOOD Morning Wilton will also have an interview with Smith in an upcoming issue.]

Mask-wearing is a key point for the start of school. In his message, Smith reiterated that the district is bound to operate under the guidance set by the CT Department of Public Health (CT-DPH) and the CT State Department of Education, as authorized by Gov. Ned Lamont‘s Executive Order 13A requiring all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks while inside a school building. 

Just Tuesday, Gov. Ned Lamont reinforced the current statewide guidance about masks in schools by announcing that masks will be mandatory in all CT schools, at least through Sept. 30.

Smith added that the state’s guidance is expected to be updated but he does not know when that will happen.

Separate from any state-issued mask mandate for schools, the CDC has ordered that masks must be worn on all school buses.

Smith applauded the Wilton community for its “collective efforts to keep all residents safe.”

“Our vaccination rates are some of the highest in the state and the current local COVID-19 transmission data reflects our shared commitment to safety. As we begin this school year, we will continue to rely on the strong partnership we’ve developed in service to this effort,” he wrote.

Below are highlights from the guidance emailed to the school community.

General WPS District Information

  • Full, in-person:  Wilton schools reopen for full-day, in-person learning, five days per week. The first day of school is Monday, Aug. 30.
  • No remote learning option: While the district is “remote ready,” there is no option for voluntary remote learning.
  • Quarantined students will use Schoology: Students who may need to quarantine will continue to access Schoology and receive some direct instruction from district tutors. Teachers will check in regularly with quarantined students.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting facilities:  All facilities will be cleaned and disinfected in accordance with CT DPH guidance. Routine daily cleaning will take place in each school building. Bathrooms and health offices will be cleaned and disinfected daily.
  • Fresh air:  HVAC systems will continue to operate providing increased fresh air flow per CT DPH guidance. Mechanical systems are maintained by a full-time Wilton PS HVAC specialist and have been inspected and certified by an independent commissioning agent.

COVID-19 Vaccination Information

  • Vaccines “encouraged” but not mandated:  The district says that, “A COVID-19 vaccine is the most effective mitigation strategy. We encourage all those who are eligible to get fully vaccinated.”
  • Employee vaccination rates: District employees were sent a survey on Aug. 1 to determine how many are fully vaccinated. Smith wrote that actual percentages are “likely” higher, as some employees at each location hadn’t returned survey answers yet.
    • Wilton High School (includes Genesis and Community Steps):  84%
    • Middlebrook Middle School: 84%
    • Cider Mill School:  82%
    • Miller-Driscoll Elementary:  85%
  • Student Vaccination rates:  District families were also sent a survey on Aug. 1 to determine how many are fully vaccinated. Smith wrote that actual percentages are “likely” higher, as some families responded their children had only received one dose or had plans to be vaccinated before school started, or they had not yet responded.
    • Wilton High School: 76% of eligible students are fully vaccinated.
    •  Middlebrook: 73% of eligible students are fully vaccinated.

Health and Safety Protocols (Masks, isolation rooms, sneeze guards)

  • Masks Required in school buildings:  Per state guidance and the governor’s Executive Order, all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a mask at all times when inside a school building. Currently, this guidance is in force through Sept. 30, 2021.
  • Masks required on school buses: per a CDC Order.
  • No masks outside: Masks will not be required for outdoor activities, including physical education and recess.
  • Stay home if sick, notify the school nurse:  Students should remain home when sick and parents should contact the school nurse. Families and staff should notify the nurse if they or their children have had contact with someone who is positive for COVID-19.
  • Isolation spaces:  Each school will continue to maintain a designated isolation space.
  • No sneeze guards

Hand Washing/Hand Sanitizing

  • Before and after sharing materials
  • Signs posted throughout buildings and classrooms
  • Hand sanitizing stations at school entrances, in all classrooms and throughout corridors

Student Social/Emotional Wellness

  • Priority: Smith’s guidelines said the district “will continue to prioritize social emotional learning [SEL] practices as we return this fall. Teacher SEL toolkits have been updated to include new resources including trauma-informed and culturally responsive teaching practices.”
  • Reacclimation activities and supports: Specific SEL activities at the secondary level have been designed to help students reacclimate and identify available supports. Students will engage in these activities at the start of the school year through advisory, courses or team base.
  • Support personnel: Counselors, school psychologists and school social workers are ready to support students and families with the transition.
  • Parent Resources to Support Student Wellness — for coping with stress and anxiety:
  • Other helpful resources:
    • WYS Past Webinars
    • Getting Out Of Thinking Traps
    • Students or families who are in need of immediate support can call the 24-hour hotline for Kids in Crisis at 203.661.1911 or 211 for mobile crisis support.
    • Wilton Social Services Resource Page
    • Email Kim Zemo, LCSW, the WPS Safe School Climate Coordinator
    • Talkitout Helpline — In an effort to offer support to families during this time, there is a new helpline called Talkitout. If a parent or caregiver is having difficulty or stress with parenting issues during this time and is in need of support, the person can call 833-258-5011 to be connected with a live clinician. This line is active Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday 1:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. Parents in need of immediate assistance outside of this time can always call 211, which is open 24 hours. This service is free to all who participate.

Contact Tracing and Quarantine

  • WPS will continue to follow the CT DPH/CSDE Interim Recommendations for contact tracing and quarantining. Vaccinated individuals will not be required to quarantine or isolate if asymptomatic
  • Any student who is seated 3 feet or more from another diagnosed with COVID-19 does not need to be quarantined as long as the exposed student is asymptomatic and the student was wearing a mask when in contact with the COVID-positive individual.
  • Students who are required to quarantine will access their school work through Schoology and will be provided some direct instruction through tutorial support. Teachers will check in with quarantined students regularly.
  • Students absent from school, due to illness, will not be expected to access Schoology nor be expected to participate in any school-related academics or activities. School officials encourage rest and recuperation when ill.

COVID-19 Surveillance Testing

Transportation

  • School bus transportation will resume at full capacity.
  • Arrival and dismissal schedules resume as normal.
  • Masks are required on school buses per a CDC Order.
  • Students will sit in assigned bus seats to support contact tracing efforts if necessary.
  • Students will be permitted to take buses to after-school activities to certain specific locations:
    • Established childcare facilities
    • Ongoing after-school special activities (see the full list of approved after-school activity locations on the WPS website)
  • Students will NOT be permitted to take buses to playdates or to Wilton Center for non-essential activities. (The district will re-evaluate this restriction after the first month of school.)

School Day

  • Social Distancing:  The district “will engage in social distancing to the best extent possible achieving at least 3 feet where we are reasonably able to do so. It is important to note that most classrooms will not be able to maintain a minimum of 3 feet of social distance.”
  • No Cohorts:  Students will not be placed in cohorts this school year.
  • Shared materials/equipment:  will resume in classrooms and specials classes
  • Food: will not be a part of classroom and school celebrations. Parents/guardians will not be permitted to bring or send in food for celebrations.
  • Choral music classes: will maintain social distance protocols in place last year
  • Music (including choral and instrumental groups and ensembles): permitted to practice and perform in accordance with CT SDE and CT DPH guidance.
  • Periodic cleaning/disinfecting of materials and equipment
  • Library Media Centers: Regular sharing/distribution of books and materials will resume.

Lunch and Recess

  • Food service/cafeterias: will resume fully. School lunches will be served in the cafeteria at Cider Mill, Middlebrook and WHS. Students will eat lunch primarily in the cafeteria and their classrooms at Miller-Driscoll.
  • Food sharing is not permitted.
  • At least 3 feet of social distance will be maintained while students are seated eating lunch.
  • Masks will not be required for recess.
  • The length and frequency of recess will be determined by each school.
  • Shared use of playground will be allowed.

Childcare, Clubs and Afterschool Activities

  • Before- and after-school activities will run as they have in the past.
  • Childcare will be available.

Athletics

Visitors and Volunteers

  • Buildings will once again open to visitors and volunteers but in a “limited fashion.”
  • Most routine meetings will take place virtually, but essential meetings can take place in person.