1. Q: HOW IS THE COMMUNITY SPREAD OF COVID-19 IMPACTING SCHOOLS?
A: Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen that increases in COVID-19 cases reported in Groton and the surrounding communities do impact our school district. The trend has been: when there is an increase in community transmission, we experience an increase in the number of staff and students reporting an infection. Specifically, the high rate of transmission in January (post-holiday), which Ledge Light Health District (LLHD) noted was impacted by holiday family and social gatherings, did correlate to an increase in the number of reported cases reported among the GPS community.
2. Q: HOW DOES GROTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS MAKE THE DECISION MADE TO SHIFT TO FULL DISTANCE LEARNING? ARE OTHER OPTIONS CONSIDERED?
A: We work closely with LLHD and seek their guidance as our local health experts and continually review guidance and scenarios provided to schools provided by the CSDE and CDC. As Steve Mansfield, Director of LLHD shared earlier this school year in a letter to Superintendents, ‘each positive case requires extensive work on behalf of the school system and health district; epidemiological investigations, contact tracing, communication with municipal leaders, response to media inquiries, etc.’
In making any decisions about our schools, we review the number of individuals who have reported a positive case, as well as any close contacts and consider all options. We seek out the least disruptive way to mitigate any potential spread and work to ensure the safety of our staff and students, while continuing teaching and learning. The impact to our schools has at times been limited only to individual staff or students or at times we have been able to reduce impact to a specific cohort, class, grade level or specific school.
3. Q: WHEN WILL STUDENTS RETURN TO THE CLASSROOM FULL TIME?
A: We are all working towards the goal of bringing our students back into the classroom full time and with the vaccine we look forward to that in our future. Assistant Superintendent collaborates with the principals and administration throughout the district, as well as our community health experts. She also regularly meets and discusses return to school plans wiht Superintendents across the region and the state
4. Q: Why do students have an Early Dismissal on Tuesday, February 9 for a TLI day?
A: In prior years, our district calendar has included a TLI day the first Tuesday of every month and Tuesday, February 9 will be our first TLI day of this school year. These days are typically planned a year in advance and we commit to having educational experts facilitate workshops with our teachers on relevant and important topics to our school community. The topics of the February 9 TLI day are extremely relevant as we look forward. We will be discussing student engagement accelerated learning and planning for our future including an increase in in-person teaching and learning.
5. Q: WHAT PROMPTED GROTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO SHIFT TO FULL DISTANCE LEARNING IN JANUARY?
A: Local and national leaders and health experts expected an increase in cases following the holidays. Our district planned for full distance learning after the winter break as a mitigation strategy to allow us to assess the impact of community spread on our schools, before having staff and students return to the building. While we did return to the hybrid model, many of our staff and students were already in isolation or quarantine and that number escalated further.
On January 21, 2021 Superintendent Austin shared that at that time 105 teachers and staff and 74 students were isolating or quarantining. Ultimately the district shifted to full distance learning due to the inability to provide appropriate staffing for in-person learning and for the safety of our students and staff. Superintendent Austin also spoke with The Day about this decision. Read the article here: https://www.theday.com/local-news/20210122/groton-schools-to-continue-remote-learning-next-week On January 28, 2021 Superintendent Austin announced a return to the Hybrid Model on February 1, 2021.
6. Q: WHO IS CONSIDERED A CLOSE CONTACT?
A: To identify close contacts we must look at the individuals a student or staff member came into contact with in the 48 hours prior to their onset of symptoms. In asymptomatic cases this is 48 hours prior to the positive test date. To be identified as a close contact, a person must have been within 6 feet of the infected individual for more than 15 minutes within the course of a day. In all our schools we seek to minimize contact and believe our mitigation strategies are helping control the number of individuals who were ‘close contacts’ through in-school contact.
7. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ISOLATING AND QUARANTINING?
A: According to the CDC, an individual who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 should follow Isolation protocals. Individuals who were a close contact of someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 should follow quarantine protocols.
8. Q: HOW DOES GROTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS UPDATE THE COMMUNITY?
A: GPS sends an email message to the school community when a positive COVID case is reported. The district also shares all Superintendent Notifications on www.grotonschools.org and launched a COVID tracking chart in the Fall showing the trend in cases from week to week, which is updated on our web site every Friday . All health notifications since September are also posted on the web site.
The Day newspaper also frequently reports on district news and shares our health notifications regarding cases and shifts in the learning model.
GPS is limited in what we are allowed to share about each case due to personnel and privacy laws and concerns.
9. WHAT MITIGATION STRATEGIES ARE IN PLACE AND ARE THEY WORKING?
A: We do believe our Mitigation Strategies are working and overall, health experts agree transmission in schools has been limited. Our hybrid model and cohort schedule have been one of the most beneficial measures we’ve taken to reduce transmission along with mask wearing and social distancing. Hand washing and self-monitoring of health symptoms are also reinforced. Additionally, we have extensive cleaning protocols and have increased custodial staff during this time.
Helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is a collaborative effort by everyone in our community and we continue to encourage all staff, parents and students to follow health protocols reduce their risk of transmission in their daily lives. You’ll find many resources and guidelines from LLHD and the CDC on our web site at www.grotonschools.org.
11. Q: HAVE OTHER DISTRICTS HAD TO SHIFT TO FULL DISTANCE LEARNING?
A: While some communities have experienced a lower number of COVID cases, our region’s larger towns and cities, including Groton, have had a higher number of cases reported by LLHD and that community spread does impact our schools. We work closely with Superintendents throughout the region, and all schools are facing many of the same situations and similar challenges. Many districts including Norwich and New London, as well as individual schools throughout our region, have had to shift to full distance learning.
12. Q: CAN TEACHERS PERFORM THEIR DUTIES IF THEY HAVE TO QUARANTINE?
A: Teachers who are a ‘close contact’ in quarantine and are not feeling ill can teach remotely, however, substitutes will be needed to provide supervision and additional support if students are in the school building. Due to the high number of staff recently impacted by COVID this became more prohibitive. Many districts in our region and across our country have faced similar staffing shortages.
13. Q: CAN SUBSITUTES HELP WHEN THERE IS A TEACHER SHORTAGE?
A: Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic we have had an all hands on deck approach and tap into all available staffing resources across the district including sharing substitutes, tutors, paraprofessionals and other interventionists to provide support. Through the CARES act we have been able to hire additional substitutes. However, when we have maximized all staffing resources and cannot adequately staff our schools, we have no other choice than to transition to full distance learning.
14. Q: CAN CLASSES OR GROUPS OF STUDENTS BE COMBINED WITH ONE TEACHER WHEN NECESSARY DUE TO A STAFFING SHORTAGE?
A: One of the mitigation strategies we believe has been effective in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our schools is limiting the number of staff and students in the building. According to LLHD, ‘the ability to maintain interventions that help keep transmission rates low in schools are more difficult when there are more students in the building.’ The hybrid and cohort model has led to fewer close contacts being identified and beneficial to reducing and limiting exposure. We do not believe it is in the best interest to abandon this approach and put students and cohorts together, particularly when community spread is elevated.
15. Q: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SCHOOL CLOSURE VS FULL DISTANCE OR REMOTE LEARNING?
A: When we shift to full distance or remote learning our schools are not closed. Students are not physically going into school, but should still be participating in remote learning including virtual lessons and assignments. Attendance and participation by all students is extremely important whether students are physically in school or distance learning.
16. Q: HOW IS ATTENDANCE DETERMINED IN THE HYBRID OR FULL DISTANCE LEARNING MODEL?
A: Attendance Matters and is taken and tracked for each student each day, as required by the Connecticut State Department of Education. (CT SDE). This applies to students who:
- Have opted-in to full-time remote learning;
- Are learning in-person or remotely during the week as part of a hybrid model; or
- Learning remotely because the entire school is operating remotely.
Attendance details and explanation can be found HERE. We do understand these are challenging times for families and encourage communications with your child’s school and teachers if you are experiencing a hardship.