Superintendent Communications 2021-2022
Dear West Hartford Community,
I hope that summer is treating you well. August is already here and I am thrilled to welcome new and returning families to our schools. I want all everyone to be aware of some important district protocols that will be in place as we begin the 2021-2022 school year. As we learned last year, nothing in this message is written in stone - our guidance will shift as facts on the ground change, and, hopefully, as the Delta variant passes. One thing that I want to be crystal clear about is that I do not anticipate a situation where we will move to remote or hybrid learning due to COVID this year. Being in person is just too important for learning, socialization, and the mental health of our children, and we have learned much over the past eighteen months about COVID, mitigation strategies, and how to safely operate our schools. Finally, a very large percentage of our students have been vaccinated, helping to keep them and their classmates safe. As vaccine approval comes for those under twelve in the next few weeks or months, we will once again do all that we can (including hosting vaccination clinics) to help get as many of our children vaccinated as quickly as possible.
There are many reasons for optimism as we begin another school year here in West Hartford. All of our students will be back in school. Lunch will be in the cafeteria or outside, not in the classroom. We will continue to utilize outdoor learning spaces that we have invested in. After school activities will return, and high school sports will start the year off with practices and conditioning before we return to classes. Meals will again be free, and we have computer devices for loan to any student that needs one. For parents at the high school level, the Board of Education voted in the spring to remove pay for play and student activity fees, and we hope that this will encourage every student to get actively involved.
The question that many have asked and are certainly passionate about, on both sides, is if there will be mandatory masking. Based on guidance from the Center for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the Department of Public Health, current case counts, and the Governor’s executive order that is still in effect, we will be starting the year with a mask mandate across all grades. This could shift during the year depending on many variables, and I expect that it will. For September, however, everyone in our schools and buses, regardless of vaccination status, will wear a mask. I wish this were not so, as there are certainly valid arguments that can be made that wearing a mask detracts in some ways from speech and language acquisition, and socialization. Those negatives, however, do not supersede the benefits of masking at this point. Having everyone in school, keeping people healthy, and limiting quarantines as much as possible have to be our primary objectives.
Some parents have been vocal that they will not allow their child to wear a mask in school. I need to be clear- this is not optional. Therefore, if any child refuses, parents will be called to come pick them up. Please, no matter how strongly you feel about this, do not put your child in this position. It makes it difficult for us to build the relationships that your child needs in order to feel safe, and to learn. It also pits the family versus the school, which is not good for any of us. We want this year to be the best year for all of our families and children, and to come back together as one community.
Each school principal will be sending a back-to-school message shortly. For a more in-depth look at our back-to-school guidance and policies, please see our Continuity of Services plan. Health and safety continue to be our number one priority. We have secured federal grants to invest in more teachers, smaller class sizes, tutors for math and reading, clinical supports for social and emotional wellness, and expanded after-school activities. Much of our work involves efforts around equity and belonging, to let every child know that they have a home in our school. This sentiment extends to our families, as well. We welcome and need your partnership. I am proud of what we have accomplished together during extremely trying times.
A new school year is a time of excitement, possibility, and hope. For those of you new to our community, or just entering kindergarten, thank you for choosing West Hartford. Raising our two children here and sending them to our schools was the best decision my wife and I ever made. Please enjoy the last weeks of summer, and I can’t wait to see you on September 1st!
Hello all, I hope that this message finds you well. As the calendar turns to October, I want to reach out to thank you all for what has been a very good first month of school, and to update you on where we are as we move forward. It has been wonderful to welcome back all of our students, and to see an increase in enrollment in our elementary schools, as we meet many new neighbors who have moved to our community. We appreciate the faith that they, and all of you, show in West Hartford Public Schools. Thankfully, Connecticut and West Hartford in particular have begun to see not just a plateau, but a decline in cases of COVID, and there are good reasons for optimism for the rest of this school year.
Once again, while we see cases occurring among some of our students, we are still not seeing spread in our schools. Our mitigation strategies, including masking, are helping to keep disruptions to a minimum. One of the things that I am especially gratified by is our vaccination rate in grades 7-12, which at over ninety percent places us in the top five districts in the state, and the best in Hartford county. While we have seen some schools forced to cancel sports events due to the number of students in quarantine, our kids have been able to play all of their games without interruption. This high vaccination rate, both in our schools and in our community, will continue to serve us well as we move into the colder months.
A new strategy we announced to parents in grades K-6 last week is that we are partnering with the state to provide voluntary pooled testing for students. While this will inevitably lead to a higher identification of cases, it is yet another mitigation strategy for our district. Over 500 parents have signed their children up so far for the testing, which may begin as early as next week. We are hopeful that vaccinations for those under twelve will be approved soon, which will provide another level of safety. With well over 90% of all staff vaccinated, and the rest undergoing weekly testing, our schools are some of the safest places to be right now.
We certainly see some continuing impacts from the pandemic among our students, and not just in academic loss. Being in school every day is a challenge for some that are not used to it, and we need to be partners, as always, to be sure that we are providing all of the social and emotional supports that our children need. We have high expectations for behavior in our schools, and it is very important that we work together to protect all of our children, physically, emotionally, and socially. Please discuss positive behavior and expectations with your child and reach out to your child’s teacher or principal if needed, as these open discussions will serve your child well.
I hope that you have a chance to enjoy the New England fall weather, perhaps at one of our many outdoor events or games. Again, we appreciate your support for the West Hartford Public Schools.