School District Weighs Options as Cases Surge

No decisions have been made, but the Weston Public School District advised parents this morning that a shift to all-remote instruction, for an undetermined period of time, could be imminent with the rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus.

In the past two weeks, positive test results among students and staff and an increased number in self-quarantine have forced the district to retreat from plans to expand in-person education, even the portion of it in a hybrid mode, which blends classroom time with online instruction.

Cases and quarantines

Word came in a letter from Superintendent Dr. William McKersie, who noted that as of today the district has 12 confirmed cases (eight students, four staff) and 204 in quarantine. Of that number, 176 are students and 28 are staff. That is an increase of 40, or 24 percent, in one week.

All Weston schools have been in hybrid mode since November 16, following a brief period when the elementary schools were fully open for in-person classes.

Staff quarantines are the main problem, wrote Dr. McKersie, as they have “increased to the point that it is not always possible to provide in-person teachers for each class.”

“Moreover, when we have administrators in quarantine, the safe operation of school buildings is a problem. This situation is similar in every district in the region and across the state.”

The prospects

Over the summer, as State and local officials prepared for a new school year, in a July press briefing with Governor Ned Lamont, former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said, “We’ve bought ourselves a couple of months. We should get in as much school as we can when we can.”

A “couple of months” is right about now.

In his letter, Dr. McKersie said Weston educators “deeply value and prefer in-person education” and that “our aim is to continue with hybrid as long as possible.”

He noted that the district has already had to shift one school or another into temporary all-remote, usually for a day or two, as contact tracing was performed or because of staff shortages. Those temporary circumstances, he said, are likely to recur from time to time.

However, the letter warned that if rapid community spread continues, all-remote learning may be required for an extended time, possibly several weeks.

The end game

It is difficult, probably impossible, to predict how long extended all-remote learning would be needed, assuming it is needed at all.

Many health officials expect the current surge to continue until at least late January.

But whenever it does eventually peak, so far there is no way to know what the angle of the downward slope will be or how long it will take for conditions to return to a more manageable level.

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