New London Public Schools will reopen for the 2020-21 school year using a hybrid education model. Students will attend school in person for two days a week and conduct online learning for the other three days.
“We want to bring children back, but we want to bring children back safely," said Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie.
The school system is still asking for feedback from families. They are asking people to fill out an online survey.
The hybrid model will extend through at least Oct. 30. The plan splits students into two different cohorts, attending school in person for two days of the week and online for three days. No students will attend school in person on Wednesdays to allow for the deep cleaning of each facility.
According to Ritchie, several factors informed the decision to open in the hybrid model including new guidance from the state on how to gauge which reopening plan should be used based on public health data. Ritchie said that based on the current COVID-19 data in New London, the school district will be opening in the hybrid model, or the yellow plan outlined in the NLPS fall reopening document.
Ritchie said that space was also a major factor to consider. There are two ongoing construction projects at the middle school and high school that make finding adequate space for social distancing difficult.
"This would allow 50% capacity to ensure maximized social distancing," said Ritchie.
In preparing for back-to-school, NLPS is stressing to parents that the plan is flexible. Based on infection rates, they are prepared to transition from the hybrid plan to either all distance learning or all in-person learning. With the hybrid model, parents do have the option to enroll their child in online-only learning.
Students will have the opportunity to receive free meals with all of the learning options.
According to Ritchie, since March, NLPS has been able to make sure every student has an electronic device and internet access for online learning. She does not anticipate a digital divide to impact online learning in the fall.
Distance learning will look different. It will be a combination of live, face-to-face learning with a teacher and prerecorded teaching segments. Listening to feedback from surveys, NLPS is adding more face time between teachers and students.
“We are definitely bringing that in where there is virtual face-to-face scheduled meetings," said Ritchie.
Ritchie said that the school system is facing several challenges including budget needs and space for social distancing. She said that the school system continues to apply for grant opportunities. The facilities team has been able to secure enough PPE and cleaning supplies for the return to school.
The school day will look different. The reopening plan says students and staff will be actively screened for COVID-19. Masks will be required and hallways will be one-way.
The school district is planning to publish videos before students return to school to give families an idea of what school will look like and what their teachers will look like in masks and other safety gear. They will also publish educational videos on hand-washing and other COVID-19 safety techniques.
In addition to physical health, the team is also preparing to focus on emotional and mental health as the students learn to re-socialize and adapt to all of the changes. The concentration for the first two to three weeks of school will be on social/emotional learning.
NLPS is reminding parents to make sure students have all medical needs met, including physical exams and vaccinations, before the start of the school year. More information can be found here.