August 9, 2020

Neviaser Discusses Lyme-Old Lyme Schools’ Draft Reopening Plan with BOE; Says “This is New to Everyone. Schools Have Never Run Like This”

Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Superintendent Ian Neviaser discusses the reopening plan for LOL Schools during the Board of Education meeting held virtually July 1.

LYME/OLD LYME — At its regular monthly meeting held virtually July 1 via Zoom, the Lyme-Old Lyme (LOL) Schools Board of Education discussed the Connecticut State Department of Education’s plan titled, “Adapt, Advance, Achieve,” which had been received the previous week.

The plan gives guidelines for reopening all schools in the state in fall 2020 and requires all Connecticut towns and regional school districts to submit their own specific plans for reopening, which incorporate the state’s guidelines, by July 24.

Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Superintendent Ian Neviaser noted that the 50-page document from the state, “Covers the major areas the state expects us to focus on,” which he said LOL Schools have broken down into five main sections.

The first is ‘Priorities,’ which gives “a general focus on a reopening model, in which every single student will have the opportunity to return in the fall,” adding that it does however, “have an allowance for students not to participate.” There are also requirements to appoint a School Liaison point-person, who will be available for any questions on the reopening of LOL Schools, and to create both a Communications Plan and a Data Collection Plan for the district.

The second section is ‘Operations,’ which includes the areas of facilities, cohorting, child nutrition (school lunches) and transportation. Neviaser commented that there was considerable work to be done to determine how lunches would be handled, but they “Won’t look the same.” He also mentioned that transportation is “the only area where they [the state] have identified a detailed description of what it will look like,” noting that all students will be required to wear masks on buses.

The third area of ‘Health Practices and Protocols’ focuses on training for staff regarding COVID-19 on, for example, how to sneeze and/or cough, and identifying symptoms of the virus. It also describes a Health Monitoring Plan, which must be maintained to record the numbers of COVID-19 cases reported, and also shared with the local health department.

A fourth area titled, ‘Family Support and Communication’ relates to the issues of social and emotional support with, “a strong focus on reconnecting students and families with school.”

The final section of ‘Staffing and Personnel’ relates to matters including teacher certification and professional development.

Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Board of Education Chairman Diane Linderman listens as the Superintendent discusses the reopening plan for LOL Schools.

Neviaser explained that two LOL Schools’ Committees — namely ‘Operations’ and ‘Distance Learning,’ (which Neviaser mentioned should now be called ‘Remote Learning’ to be consistent with the state’s terminology) — have been working intensively since the schools were closed in March.  The latter is planning models for both ‘blended’ (a combination of in-school and at-home study) and ‘at home’ programs since, in Neviaser’s word, “We need to be prepared for both of those.”

The superintendent had prepared a draft calendar for LOL Schools for the 2020-21 school year in which all six teacher development days are moved to the beginning of the school year and the first day of school is pushed back to Sept. 1. The idea behind this proposal is that “a lot of educating for our staff” needs to take place before students can return, adding, “There is much more to open school this year than any other year.”

He stressed that the draft calendar is very tentative at this stage and still a topic of active discussion. Similarly, Neviaser noted that although a reopening plan has to be submitted to the state by July 24, things may still change after that, “on a day to day basis,” and emphasized the need for staff, students and parents to be flexible with adapting to the reopening procedures.  

Nevaiser stated the reopening plan, “will continue to evolve — even after school has started … What we say today could very well change two months from now … We fully anticipate that there will be changes and we recognize that we need to adapt to those changes.”

Questions from board members ranged from how the plan is going to be communicated to parents and how attendance will be recorded — especially in light of the ‘opt-out’ possibilities for students — to how the type of masks used by students will be regulated and what the provisions will be for teachers and/or students who are unable to wear masks.  There were also questions about whether additional staff would be required to implement the reopening plan and how the requirement for students to wear masks all day would be handled.

Neviaser responded that, in many cases, “We don’t have all the answers yet,” but said “mask-breaks” were being planned when students could remove their masks under certain specified circumstances.  He noted schools will be required to have isolation rooms for students and teachers who may have contracted COVID and emphasized that, “This is going to look slightly different at each school building … school principals will develop plans for their building.”

Regarding communication of the plan, Neviaser said he anticipated “providing information to parents” in late July or early August and would follow that with a parent survey seeking responses on whether their children would be returning to school, whether they would be using school buses (Neviaser noted use of buses will be discouraged where possible) and whether the student(s) would be using the school lunch service.

Neviaser summed up the whole reopening situation saying, “This is new to everyone. Schools have never run like this; we will adapt and improve, and work towards getting better at this every day.”

Editor’s Note: Olwen Logan contributed to this article.

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Comments

  1. Mary Stone says

    This will be the most challenging school reopening since Sept. 11, 2001. The first day of school had been delayed by two weeks due to building construction on the elementary schools. Lyme kids were moved to Camp Claire. At 9:20am on the first day of school, the World Trade Center was attacked. Our faculty and staff were wonderful throughout that crisis: they kept kids and parents calm, protected, and orderly. Since then, I’ve seen them rise to the occasion time after time, so I know they’ll do their best for our children this fall. Let’s give them our support as they face what is bound to be the most difficult school year ever.

  2. Mike Bucior says

    If there is even the possibility that COVID may shut down the schools again this fall, the board of education should be putting together a back up plan to furlough the teachers and allow the students to sign up for professional on-line courses. While they did the best they could the school is not set up nor was it ever intended to operate this way.

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