Tuesday, September 22, 2020

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Madison Schools to Submit Initial Plan for Fall, Though Much Remains Unknown

The Board of Education (BOE) has until Friday, July 24 to submit its initial plan for school reopening in the fall to the state, though with massive uncertainty regarding the progression of the coronavirus pandemic, almost nothing is set in stone at this point.

With a new section of the schools’ website www.madison.k12.ct.us covering frequently asked questions and showing all the latest information, BOE Chair Katie Stein promised to provide regular updates, including posting the full preliminary reopening plan when it is submitted, while reminding anxious parents and community members to remain patient and flexible as the district navigates the unprecedented circumstances.

“It’s like building an airplane while it’s flying,” Stein said. “I don’t want to put a hard and fast plan out in the middle of July that could look completely different if any one little thing changes.”

Looking at essentially three scenarios—full, in-person school; full remote learning; and a hybrid of those two, which could mean anything from shortened school weeks to creating cohorts of students (forming groups of students and educators with consistent members that stay intact throughout the school day rather than one big group of students, faculty, and staff)—Madison’s new Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jean Ann Paddyfote told the BOE last week that the landscape of school likely will continue to shift even into September.

“We may see it going from phase to phase to phase. It’s going to be a very fluid platform,” Paddyfote said. “We’ve thought of a lot of things, but every time we meet...something else comes up.”

Depending largely upon guidance from the state, which released an initial, 50-page outline for the fall school year on June 29 that offers mostly broad principles and is light on specifics, Stein said Madison district staff is honing in on details and procedures wherever possible, including measuring space between student desks in classrooms, re-thinking passing periods, and surveying teachers on health risks.

A few things have been mandated by the state, including the wearing of masks and an option for students to opt out of in-person classes for any reason, which means Madison has to prepare for at least some remote learning in the fall.

Other things are almost entirely undefined at this point, with individual districts asked to look at their own transportation situations, extracurriculars, social/emotional needs of students, and cohorting situations.

Stein said she has tasked committees with drawing up a plan for all of these things, which will be included in the preliminary plan submitted to the state—again, knowing that outside circumstances could upend them any time between now and September.

One thing that Stein said she was sure of was that individual districts will not be given the power to shut down or start up on their own; those decisions will be made either at the state or regional level based on health data.

Exactly what criteria will be used in making those determinations has not been released, according to Stein.

What the initial first couple days of school look like could be drastically different as well, Stein said.

Again, with nothing set in stone, Stein said there was a consideration of dedicating time both for teachers and students at the beginning of the year to get acclimated and address needs other than the academic. The district website also promises regular “intervention meetings” to address pandemic-related stress and concerns.

With the lack of concrete details and certainty, Stein said she fully understands the frustration of many parents, but promised the district was focusing fully on the complete needs of students.

“Both working in health care and having kids of my own in the district, the one thing I can say with certainty is that everything that is being prepared has certain principles in mind, guiding lights that we are paying attention to. First and foremost is health and safety,” Stein said.

Madison Public Schools is posting reopening information to www.madison.k12.ct.us/reopening.

Jesse Williams covers Guilford and Madison for Zip06. Email Jesse at j.williams@shorepublishing.com.

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