Stratford to send students back to school
In a 4-1 decision, the Stratford Board of Education voted on Monday to reopen its middle and elementary school this fall with five days of instruction, but only four days at Stratford High School.
Debate during the two and a half hour meeting centered around high school instruction, with the board taking in feedback from a public listening session on Aug. 5, as well listening to public comments during Monday night’s meeting.
Stratford resident Travis Skroch argued against an original Stratford reopening plan which had high school students coming to school just twice a week for in-person instruction, followed by three days of online learning.
Skroch told board members about a recent study concluding that the level of risk of infection at three feet of separation was only 2.6 percent.
Reading from a prepared statement, Skroch said that it was possible to send high school students back to school for more than two days while still maintaining reasonable physical distances.
“Six feet of distancing is not providing any major improvement in safety,” Skroch argued. “If several countries around the globe, eight U.S. states and Washington D.C. are using guidelines other than the CDC and DPI, why can’t we? Is one percent of added safety really worth the loss of three days of in-person education?”
Board president Chris Dickinson agreed with Skroch. He said that based on census tracts, there have been few COVID- 19 cases within a fifteen mile radius of Stratford. “When you take into account our census tract, and you look at where cases are, there has been no more than four cases reported in this census tract. We have no local transmission that is significant,” Dickinson declared.
Dickinson would later concede that the school would likely see a COVID-19 case at some point during the school year, but he believed that having students in class was important for a student’s well-being, and that focusing on COVID-19 cases took away from the board’s mission.
“Our primary responsibility is to the students and our primary goal is to provide an education,” Dickinson said.
Board member Pam Warosh piggybacked on Dickinson’s comments, expressing her desire to have students back at least four days a week. As Stratford is a rural community, Warosh said students are less likely to contract COVID-19.
“I’m not saying we’re magical here in the Stratford school district. However, we’ve been very lucky that COVID-19 hasn’t hit us hard,” Warosh said. “It gives us a lot of opportunity that a lot of places across the country don’t currently have.”
Warosh said the district can further cut down on risks of infection thanks to the $150,000 air ionizer the district recently purchased, and that will be installed before the start of the school year.
Jeannie Tichy was also in favor of having students come back, but on the condition that a mask or face covering be a requirement.
High school principal Janeen LaBorde said that if the high school maintained a block schedule and limited group gatherings, the high school could allow for proper physical distances. But she also pointed out that while the board had the students’ best interests in mind, they may have been forgetting about their teachers and staff.
“I haven’t heard you guys talk much about staff and how this will affect staff. I want to be clear that if I have a staff member that is out sick they could also be out for two weeks. They may or may not be working from home and assisting creating plans. That’s something you need to consider.”
LaBorde told the board she had multiple teachers in the high school that are the only staff member who teach dual credit classes and that have the necessary credentials and certifications required to teach those classes.
“If they are out, and can’t teach, then that class is not certified to be taught because remember, one class day is now equal to two. So if you’re out one week you’re actually out for two. You have to think about the health of your staff.”
After several hours of debate, the board moved forward with their plan to have high school students in school four days a week, with a mask or face covering a requirement. There will be face mask breaks, and for those with severe medical conditions, a doctor’s note will be required to forgo wearing a mask.
Superintendent Scott Winch said that no reopening plan is going to be perfect, but that he was “confident we can create a positive learning environment.”
Parents will have until Aug. 18 to decide if they wish to enroll students in virtual learning or in-person instruction.