Districts Set Up Online-Learning, Free Meals for Students During Coronavirus Break

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Half of Connecticut’s school students will spend at least the next two weeks at home as districts try to do their part to curb the spread of coronavirus. 

On Friday, the superintendents of New Britain, Bloomfield and Middletown added to the growing list of schools shuttering, some indefinitely.

“I’m very happy that they’re actually closing for a while to take precautionary measures,” said Keith Nardelli, who has two sons in the Middletown Public School District.

After a half day of school, the buses left Van Buren Moody Elementary School in Middletown where students weren't scheduled to return until March 30.

“The first thing we always worry about is student and staff safety,” said Superintendent Dr. Michael Conner.

Middletown has not had any patients test positive for the coronavirus.

“They’re saying to self-quarantine for 14 days, so we’re closing for about two weeks. We’re going to clean all of our buildings,” said Conner.

“I think in the long run, even though we might have to go school later in the year, in hindsight we’ll see that this was a good response,” said April Happenstall, whose son attends elementary school in the district.

Students were supposed to end the school year June 15, but if the district resumes classes on March 30 as planned, the last day of school won’t be until June 30, which is the latest allowed by state law.

Yesterday, Governor Ned Lamont signed an executive order saying school districts don’t have to be in session 180 days, but they do have to go until June 30 or find other ways to make up as many days as possible.

“Obviously, we want to get to the 180 day academic year mark. You can’t have a 150-day school year or 165 days and just decide to have the last day whenever you want in June,” said Conner.

With so many unknowns, Conner said he plans to propose skipping spring break to end the school year sooner. It’s one of several options he says he’ll present to the Board of Education on March 18.

“It’s like snow, right?  We didn’t have snow this winter so now they’re having a different kind of break from school,” said Happenstall.

With tens of thousands of students expected to be home for the foreseeable future, now, the focus turns to how to keep their brains busy and their bellies full during this unexpected break.

“We don’t want students to have what we call the “summer slide.” I’m calling it the ‘Covid slide,’” said Conner.

The potential learning gap was one of the many considerations for Conner as he decided to close Middletown’s public schools. 

“We’ll pick up where the curriculum left off. Obviously we’re going to make some modifications and adaptations within the actual pacing to ensure that all of the standards are covered, but the online platforms, they can be able to access it and we hope they do,” said Conner.

Middletown students will have access to online curriculum and learning packets while their schools are shut down for a deep cleaning the next two weeks. Neither are mandatory, but Conner hopes parents take the lead to keep their children learning during the break.

“As much as we need the school system sometimes, we rely on them too much and we need to remember that these are our children ultimately, so you kind of have an responsibility,” said Happenstall.

Patrick Pollak, whose two children attend Middletown High School, says they won’t be spending the next two weeks in front of the TV.

“I’m going to make sure they keep up with their homework and at least just review what they have that it’s not just two weeks, not just a vacation, I at least want them to keep up with their studies,” said Pollak.

Forty-nine-percent of Middletown’s students receive free and reduced meals. Conner said some families would go without a meal on the table without that assistance. Now, the district is working with its own food service, volunteers from Wesleyan University, and even a local restaurant to provide the breakfast and lunch those students receive, as well as dinner.

“We’re not going to turn away any student, we’re not going to turn away any adult or any family. We realize this was a circumstance that wasn’t predictable. This is a pandemic,” said Conner.

The district is still working out the logistics but says volunteers will give rides to pickup sites to families in need.

Over the weekend, parents will receive a list of those sites which will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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