“I want more than anything for all of our students to return to school in as normal environment as possible as soon as possible,” said West Hartford Superintendent Tom Moore in a video message to parents.
In that message, he delivered the news that a planned return to full-time in-person learning scheduled to start on Tuesday, Oct. 13 had been postponed.
“What we’ve seen is concerning,” he said pointing to West Hartford’s COVID-19 case rate.
The rate rose from 3.4% in the first week of September to 8.9% during the last week of the month. That’s the key metric schools and public health officials use.
“I have to say I think it’s a good decision,” said Anna Kalke, who has one student in elementary school and one in middle school.
“The gut reaction obviously was to be disappointed. I think we all want normalcy back in our lives,” said Jaimie Luczak. “At this point in 2020, I’m just trying to kind of roll with it and the uncertainty is what it is.”
Some parents felt the decision should be driven by data in the district and not the community itself.
So far, the district has not experienced in-school transmission of the virus. According to statistics posted on the district’s website, as of Oct. 5, just two people from the school community were isolating with a case of COVID-19, both from Hall High School.
“We’ve only been notified of a couple of cases. I thought our numbers were pretty good,” said Jenny Dean, who has two children in the district.
Moore said the school district was making plans for secondary students to also return to full in-person learning a couple of weeks after the younger students went back.
Instead, students will continue to go to school for a full week and then stay home for remote learning the next.
“What is the real benefit of this? Is this uptick that we now see is the direct consequence or can it be mitigated by keeping kids in the hybrid model? I don’t think so,” questioned Friso Postma.
Postma, who is a scientist, argued being in school full-time is a better way to keep the virus in check.
“This is now up to the parents and it’s now not necessarily controlled,” Postma said.
However, it’s that community spread that concerns the head of the local teachers union.
“I do think that the numbers clearly made it that we should not go back full in at the elementary level right now,” said Theresa McKeown.
McKeown is worried that the increase in cases in the community could seep into the school system and believes the school district should stay the course.
“What we’re doing is working,” McKeown pointed out.
Some parents said the online portion of the hybrid learning model isn't making the grade.
“Half an hour per day or 20 minutes of in-person learning with the teacher on the computer is in my opinion not enough,” said Kalke.
“It’s not a lot of support. I mean for kids to be focused and on a computer for a lot of hours during the day and then stay on the computer and then they have homework that they have to do in preparation for the next day. It’s a lot,” added Karyl Shaughnessy, who has two high school students.
For many working parents, the focus is on finding childcare again. But for how long? Moore said he will keep evaluating the data but gave no date for a full return.
“It’s frustrating. It just kind of leaves that door wide open of when if when,” said Dean. “You know you had that date in your mind of Oct. 13 and now it’s who knows what it’s going to be.”
“This is an open-ended hybrid model. It’s just difficult to deal with. You have to provide solutions for your kid every other week and it costs money and it’s time," said Postma.