North Branford Returns to Full In-Person School with 90% of Students In Attendance
North Branford went back to school today with just over 90 percent of its student population returning for full in-person instruction, according to Superintendent of Schools Scott Schoonmaker.
"The administrative staff, teachers and all of the support staff have done an amazing job leading up to this day," said Schoonmaker, speaking to Zip06/The Sound outside Jerome Harrison Elementary School (JHS) this morning, Sept. 8. "There's so much anticipation and energy to get the children back."
Schoonmaker said the first four days of school this week will be partial days to allow for transitioning back into school buildings. The district's schools had been closed since March 13 due to the pandemic.
"This week, we're really working on just transitioning the kids back on, so there's really not going to be a great deal of instruction this week. It's going to be the social emotional reconnecting piece, with getting kids acclimated, getting staff acclimated," said Schoonmaker. "There's so much fear out there right now; so what we're trying to do is help them to ease back in and get their feet on the ground, and get ready for full days next week."
Faculty, staff and students will also be working on acclimating to the district's COVID-19 safety protocols developed during recent months.
"We've worked hard, and I think we've done a great deal of communication through our open forums that we've had online, and we put out through Totoket TV," said Schoonmaker. "Parents could ask questions, and we fielded questions and listened to their concerns. We tried to counter everything with our plan, which was very detailed."
The district developed a 65-page "Road to Reopening" plan which was distributed to parents and guardians in early August.
The vast majority of the district's student population of approximately 1750 students has returned to in person learning at their school buildings. As of Sept. 8, just under 10 percent of North Branford public school students opted to begin the school year at home with online learning, according to Schoonmaker. Those students can opt in to the participate in the full in person model by notifying the district.
"When you look across the state, everyone's doing different things and has a different mind set as to when they're ready," said Schoonmaker. "There are so many factors that play into it: technology, space in your buildings, your ability to do the things that are important for staying open. And we just felt that, all things being said, we were just ready to bring our students back full time. And we're excited to be able to do that."
North Branford's first day of school involved a coordinated plan to route vehicles in one direction as faculty stood by to help channel face-masked students into each building. The air was celebratory as students arrived, with decorations outside JHS including a large, colorful "Welcome Back" sign and ballons at the entrance.
Students came back to school by parent drop-off or by bus. In addition to school staff, North Branford Police Department provided 8 to 10 officers to assist with the district's back-to-school arrival process, together with Chief Kevin Halloran and Deputy Chief James Lovelace on site at school buildings.
"This is a total community effort," said Schoonmaker. "It's a great team effort and it's all for our children. It's been a great success, and the kids need to be here. So we're excited."