Borough schools eyeing hybrid model to reopen


By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

NAUGATUCK — In the fluid landscape that is reopening schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Naugatuck officials are leaning toward different approaches for high school and elementary school students to start the school year, while deciding where middle schoolers fall in the plan.

All school districts were required to submit operating plans to the state for offering in-person instruction, a combination of in-person and distance learning, and all remote instruction. In late July, Gov. Ned Lamont and Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said school districts retain discretion over reopening schools — a sentiment that caught school superintendents by surprise as many were under the impression that the state would make the final decision.

“That was a bit of a curveball,” said Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini during an Aug. 3 virtual workshop with the Board of Education.

Montini unveiled where the district stood on reopening during the workshop.

The plan for the first month of the school year is for half of Naugatuck High School students to attend school in-person Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday on an early dismissal schedule. Students will then do remote learning at home for 90 minutes in the afternoon. The three days students aren’t in school will be full days of remote learning.

Students in grades K-6 will attend school Monday through Friday on an early dismissal schedule and remote learn in the afternoons, according to the plan.

Montini said last week officials were still evaluating what to do with City Hill Middle School students, who could fall into either plan.

Students will get a grab-and-go lunch to take home as well as a breakfast for the following day. Montini said schools will still have breakfast available if students come to school hungry.

Under the plan, the first day would be Sept. 2 instead of Aug. 31. This change still has to be approved by the school board.

Montini stressed the plan is fluid. The idea is to follow this model through Oct. 2, and officials will evaluate in September how to continue.

Officials decided on this plan, Montini said, to help students transition back to school, get used to wearing masks, and to build the capability for students to distance learn. He also said it will address the issue of heat in schools that don’t have air conditioning as well as students taking off their masks in groups to eat.

Parents can still opt for full remote learning and not send their children to school. Students who opt out can still participate in sports and after-school activities, Montini said.

Montini said the district is asking those who decide to keep their children home to commit to a full marking period of distance learning to help schools plan. Students who start by attending school can opt out, he said.

Officials are going to divide students who will attend school in-person twice a week into groups starting alphabetically, he said, and keep siblings in the same group. Students with special needs may attend more in-person and have appointments for sessions, like speech therapy, at schools.

Montini said the district is working with local childcare providers for possible school-based childcare options for parents because of the early dismissals.

Student-athletes may remote learn from school in the afternoon on days they attend the high school, Montini said. It’s also possible the district sets up community bus stops to bring students back to school for sports, he said.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference has a plan to play sports in the fall, though Montini said that could change before the season starts.

“Sports is going to be a hot topic,” he said.

Montini said it’s unlikely schools will follow just one model throughout the year as officials adjust to the coronavirus’ impact on the state.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess, who sits on the school board, said there won’t be a perfect plan.

“I have confidence in your plan and I know if it’s not working you will find a way to fix it,” Hess told Montini.

Correction: The Board of Education has not officially voted yet to change the first day of school to Sept. 2. An earlier version of this article stated the first day will be Sept. 2.