I. Health and Safety Strategies
West Hartford Public Schools will continue to work closely with WHBHD and CSDE to assess the operational plans and policies for the 2021-2022 school year. These plans may be updated due to rapidly changing responses and ongoing updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and/or changes to federal and state orders and guidance.
We have created age-appropriate lessons to review the new policies and safety protocols that we have in place across our school system and community. We will dedicate extensive time at the beginning of the school year, as well as frequent reminders to review the new policies and procedures. Educating our school community in these health practices will help them make appropriate decisions and comply with school health policies and practices.
We will continue to provide adequate supplies, including soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60% ethyl alcohol or 70% isopropyl alcohol (for staff and students who can safely use hand sanitizer), paper towels, tissues, disinfectant wipes, cloth face coverings, and no-touch trash cans where applicable. District Operations Staff will track usage to ensure adequate supply levels are maintained.
Universal and correct wearing of masks
If current CTDPH guidance remains unchanged, masks will remain mandatory inside school buildings for all students and staff. Schools will continue to have masks available for any student or staff member who does not have one, and schools will continue to teach proper mask behaviors. There will be opportunities for “mask breaks” during the day, and we will encourage the use of the outside areas around the schools for classes, where, if distanced appropriately, students can remove their masks. Families are asked to wear masks during drop off and pick up.
In compliance with best practices and guidance, each principal will review their building plan to address physical distancing in classrooms, hallways, bathrooms and for both entry and dismissal times. Principals will assist staff and students to maintain maximum physical distance between individuals to reduce the potential for transmission of the virus per public health guidelines and directives. Teachers will be encouraged to use outdoor instruction where health and safety conditions and space allow. We do not anticipate the need to cohort elementary students beyond their classroom, but will continue to follow guidance. At each middle school, our team structures serve as cohorts and allow us to limit student contact and movement throughout the building. We will schedule students within their team as much as possible. Likewise, while our high schools do not allow for strict cohorts, we will schedule students with the goal of limiting exposures and movement whenever possible.
Schools will continue to teach and implement routines for hand-washing at specified points during the school day inclusive of before and after lunch periods and after outdoor activities. All classrooms and school offices will be outfitted with hand sanitizing stations / materials. Students will be educated to the fact that hand washing is more effective than hand sanitizing.
Signs and Messages
Signs and messaging related to stopping the spread of the virus will be accessible for students with disabilities and in languages appropriate for the school population. For each age level, videos will be used to promote everyday protective measures and to provide instruction related to hand washing and wearing a cloth facemask.
Cleaning and Sanitation
In compliance with DPH Guidance for the Cleaning and Disinfection of Schools during the COVID-19 Pandemic, cleaning protocols in school have been greatly enhanced, and our custodians have been trained on cleaning in a pandemic. Additional staff have been added to address frequent disinfecting of high touch surfaces, such as door handles, handrails, playground equipment, and other shared materials and surfaces. Where possible, we will enable no-touch usage of items such as doors, trashcans, and bathroom fixtures. We have converted the majority of our hallway drinking fountains to bottle refilling stations, and will continue to put these units in place. In addition, bathrooms have been outfitted with paper towels in lieu of hand dryers due to ventilation considerations.
At the start of the 2019-2020 school year, we convened a district HVAC task force to address the DPH Guidance for School Systems for the Operation of Central and non-Central Ventilation Systems during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This guidance provides actions schools should take to ensure that their ventilation systems are performing optimally to help ensure the health of all occupants. The task force reviewed each building within the DPH framework and developed an operational plan to increase fresh air ventilation and circulation. The District contracted an outside HVAC mechanical engineering firm with experience and familiarity with ventilation systems to review and approve each of these plans. As mentioned, we have created and will continue to utilize outdoor learning spaces at each school to encourage having students outside whenever possible.
Contract Tracing, Isolation, and Quarantine
Until there is notification otherwise, we continue to follow the CSDE Addendum 5: Responding to COVID-19 Scenarios in Connecticut School Districts and its definition as a close contact as an individual spending a total of at least 15 minutes (within 24 hours) within 6 feet of a person with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 during their infectious period or having direct contact with an infected person’s droplets (e.g., cough, sneeze). Once an individual is identified, our practice continues to be isolation and quarantine as outlined in in the link above.
Diagnostic Screening, Reporting Illnesses, and Testing
It is critical that staff and students stay home when they are sick. Parents will continue to let the school office know, that day, exactly why their child is absent, and the specific symptoms that prompt an absence. This will be important to support our contact tracing efforts should an absence be related to COVID-19. Students (or staff) exhibiting symptoms of illness (e.g. fever, etc.) will be excused and families will be contacted to pick up their child immediately. Timely response in these situations is critically important for the welfare of not only your child, but the school community.
Parents will continue to follow the Health Screening Protocols that we have established, as it is important that families and staff be informed about when to stay home if they are not feeling well or may have had exposure to COVID-19. These health protocols incorporate recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the State of Connecticut, and the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District. We will continue to communicate and reinforce this information frequently through mailings, emails, websites, newsletters and building notifications.
We have encouraged both staff and eligible students to be vaccinated as this is the best mitigation tool to keep our community safe. Through our partnerships with the West Hartford/Bloomfield Health District and UConn Health, we have been able to provide clinics for both staff and students, and will continue to do so if needed.
Appropriate Accommodations and Safety
The safety of our students and staff is our priority and is at the forefront of our planning. State guidance and policies related to school reopening safety plans apply to all students, including students with special needs who qualify for individual education programs under the IDEA and accommodation plans for eligible students under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Under the guidelines, masks, physical distancing, and hand washing protocols are required for all students.
Certain exceptions are allowed under the state regulations. As exceptions, any modification to the mitigating processes (mask wearing, physical distancing, and handwashing) will be carefully considered on a case by case basis using documentation and data. Exceptions for students include accommodations for anyone who has a medical reason making it unsafe to wear a face covering, students with special health care needs or disabilities whose learning (e.g., direct instruction) or other needs (e.g., assisting with toileting or ambulation) may require closer proximity and/or direct contact.
Special consideration will be given to students who may have difficulty acclimating to the standard protocols (students with significant communication and/or executive functioning deficits, students with impaired vision, hearing, and/or other physical disabilities). Developmentally appropriate instructional strategies will be implemented. Examples include but are not limited to the use of social stories, visual cues, video modeling, and other appropriate developmental strategies used to reinforce new concepts and protocols.
Staff supporting students with special healthcare needs (students not able to wear masks and who may need assistance with activities of daily living, such as toileting and eating), conducting certain assessments, language acquisition activities, and staff working with students who may exhibit significant behaviors that require de-escalation strategies and emergency safety protocols will be afforded increased protective equipment (including but not limited to face shields, and disposable gowns, static and clear barriers, and gloves). Additionally, protocols and training will be provided for staff who provide services with these pre-approved exceptions.