Region 16 school board backs hybrid model

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

PROSPECT — Region 16 students will return to school in September under a hybrid model that combines in-person instruction and distance learning.

The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees public schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, unanimously approved the plan to resume classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic at its Aug. 12 meeting.

Under the plan, students in grades 6-12 will be divided into two groups alphabetically. Each group will attend school in-person two days a week — either on Monday-Thursday or Tuesday-Friday schedule — and distance learn the other days.

Elementary school students will attend school in-person each weekday, with the exception of Wednesday.

All students will remote learn on Wednesdays, which will be half days for students, to allow for a thorough cleaning of facilities and time for staff to plan. If there is a scheduled day off during a week — like a holiday on a Monday — there will be in-person instruction on Wednesdays. In these cases, still only half of the middle and high school students will physically attend school.

Students and staff are required to wear masks in school, unless they have a medical exemption.

School officials will evaluate the plan every six weeks, or sooner if there is a spike in coronavirus cases, Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said.

“With everything that we have right now today, I think this is an excellent plan,” Board of Education Chairman Priscilla Cretella said after the meeting. “I think that it will give the kids a great education and keep them safe.”

Cretella said the plan came together very well due to the diligence of Yamin, the district’s reopening committee and staff members.

“Our staff has done a herculean effort to get us to where we are today,” she said.

The first day of school is now Sept. 1, and the first week will be half days for students. Yamin said having half days the first week will allow staff to review how the plan is working.

“This is the first time we’re faced with these circumstances, we may have to make drastic changes,” he said. “We’re asking the community to systemically change the way they attend school and how we teach and learn.”

Parents can decide to keep their children home and do full remote learning. Region 16 students who do this will not be able to participate in sports or other after-school activities.

Students who opt for all distance learning can return to in-person instruction, and vice versa, as long as they give the district two weeks’ notice, according to Yamin.

Yamin said the district will not provide additional services, like tutors, for students with individualized education plans who opt out, but will provide support virtually.

Dividing older students into two groups will reduce class sizes at Long River Middle School and Woodland Regional High School to about 12 students per class, officials said. Class sizes at the elementary schools are about 18 to 22 students.

Students who move from class to class will do so on staggered times, Yamin said. Students will stay in cohorts for lunch and sit 14 feet apart from other groups of students. He said the district also rented tents for outside the cafeterias to help spread out students.

If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a school, the school will be closed for at least two days and school officials will consult with health officials on the next steps. If absences among students or staff reach 30%, the region will switch to full remote learning.

Students are required to attend class while distance learning — they will be able to follow along live online — and the region’s typical grading policy is in effect. After schools turned to distance learning in March, the region switched to a pass-fail system for grading.

“That’s a shift from last year,” Yamin said.