Parents of New Britain students will have the option this fall to keep their children home for all-online education, send them to school for traditional classes or try a mix of both.
In explaining the school district’s plan for teaching 10,000 students during the pandemic, Superintendent Nancy Sarra emphasized that parents will have choices.
One option that might help working parents and guardians is a hybrid system: They may design a schedule for their children to attend in person on certain days, and take classes virtually on the others.
If families choose in-person classes, they should prepare their children for a daily schedule very different than usual.
“All of our desk in the classrooms will be 3 feet apart, all students except for preschool must wear a mask and a face shield,” Sarra said in a recent online town hall for city parents.
Staff will maintain distance from students, kindergarten through eighth grade classes will have essentially no interaction with other classes, and high school schedules will be written to keep students together in the same small groups as much as possible, educators said.
Gym, music and art classes will be held in the student’s regular classroom — not in gyms or other special rooms. Students will eat breakfast and lunch at their desks, said Jacqui Maddy, supervisor of school nurses; they can remove masks during meals and during several “mask breaks” each day.
Students who can’t wear masks — or choose not to — won’t be able to attend classes in person, so their families will need to enroll them in the online-only option, Sarra said.
“If you believe your children won’t be able to make it, start putting the mask on now and see if you can build their stamina,” she advised parents. “Or you might choose to have them learn virtually.”
The schools have been contracting for software so that systems for instruction, grading and parent communication are similar at all schools and grades. Students who take in-person classes will arrive with only a table or Chromebook — supplied by the school system — and a back-up mask.
All students — those in the buildings and those learning remotely — will use the devices for learning. The schools are asking parents to get headphones for their children to use, said Jeff Prokop, head of the system’s IT department.
“Communication between teachers and student will be happening very much through the computer,” Sarra said. “We really want to build the capacity of our students to work remotely to use their computer all day. There will be very little paper passing — we’re trying to limit contact as much as we can.”
That will also help New Britain prepare for a mid-year switch if coronavirus outbreaks worsen.
“Our goal is to make sure students are computer literate in case we have to shut down schools altogether and go entirely virtual,” she said.
Much of how the school year progresses will depend on the virus; if conditions in central Connecticut are good, the plan is for six-hour school days and buses running at full capacity.
If conditions deteriorate a bit, students will attend in-person one week, then alternate to virtual learning. Buses will run at less than half capacity. And if community transmission rates become even more troubling, all students will switch to entirely online classes.
The school district this week is sending questionnaires to all parents asking if they plan to have their children attend online or in person. Parents are able to view the entire video explanation of the 2020 plan at https://tinyurl.com/y5koq74q.
Don Stacom can be reached at [email protected].
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