Interim Superintendent Addresses 2021-22 School Year

Promises ‘It Will Be a Good Year’

Interim Superintendent Dr. Thomas McMorran sent the following message today to the Easton, Redding and Region 9 Communities.

Dear Friends and Families of the ER9 Schools:

This email is intended for parents and guardians, families of students in the Easton, Redding, and Region 9 schools, members of the Easton and Redding communities, administrators, school nurses, para-educators, support staff, teachers and board members.

The subject of this email is an update on some aspects of the opening of schools on Sept. 1, 2021. It is not meant to be exhaustive in detail or to address every question about the return to schools.

Knowing that there will be more questions, I would like to direct interested persons to www.er9.org, the three Districts’ website. Look for our link to the “Safe Return to In-Person Instruction & Continuity of Services Plan” as well as our “ER9 COVID-19 Dashboard.”  As we receive guidance from the State Department of Education (CSDE) and the State Department of Public Health (CDPH), and with input and direction from our local Departments of Health in the two towns, we will be making appropriate changes and taking appropriate action.  

I want to address some issues in this email, and let you know we will provide additional information as the reopening committee consolidates its plans.

Before I get to these topics, may I introduce myself?  

I am Dr. Tom McMorran, a retired educator with 35 years of experience. I enjoyed the highlight of my career when I served as Asst. Superintendent and Head of School at Joel Barlow High School from 2007-2008 through the 2014-2015 school year. I then served Easton and Redding for five years as Superintendent of ER9.  I retired in August of 2020, and I have returned as Interim to help the ER9 districts while the Boards of Education conduct their search for a new Superintendent.

It is with respect for a caring community and, I hope, appropriate humility, that I state my belief that we are united in wanting the same goals for our children in our schools: Academic progress and the pursuit of excellence that takes place in a caring community, one that we must nurture and build and improve together, as we help our young people get ready for their lives, and thus be ready for the future.

What is Connecticut’s goal for in-person public education this year?

The Governor, State Department of Education (CSDE) and the State Department of Public Health (CDPH) are all committed to 100% return to in-person teaching and learning in our schools.

Will masks be required of all children and adults inside the buildings while school is in session?

Yes, as a public institution our school system (ER9) and our school buildings operate under the Governor’s Executive Orders.  

In his most recent EO, #13A, the Governor gave us a duty of care to ensure all persons wear masks, including students, employees, service providers, vendors and those with legitimate reasons to be in the schools. This will be in effect until at least September 30, 2021 and possibly longer. The Governor’s Executive Order references a document from the State Department of Education, “Conditions and Environments Requiring Universal Masking for the Prevention of Covid-19 on and after May 19, 2021.” (Department of Public Health).  

That document clearly states that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, must continue to wear a face-covering mask at all times when “inside public or private school buildings (PreK-12).” There are limited exemptions identified in the Governor’s Executive Order 12A. That order was superseded by 13A but the exemptions remain unchanged. You might want to access https://portal.ct.gov/coronavirus for additional information.

Did the Governor grant the Superintendent authority to waive the masking requirement?

No, the mask requirement will be in effect until September 30, and possibly beyond as future Executive Orders or Legislative action directs.

With our first day of school being September 1, 2021, we will be in compliance with the mask requirement.

Will there be remote learning in the 2021-2022 school year?

The short answer is no. With a goal of 100% return to in-person learning, the State DOE has directed the schools that remote learning, as of the current time, will not count toward the 180 school days of the year.  On a case-by-case basis, some children might be homebound for medical or disability or other reasons as determined by individualized learning plans or what are known as 504 plans.  

In addition to wearing masks, what other mitigation strategies will be in effect?

Students who were present in our five schools at the end of last year will be familiar with most of our strategies:

  • We recommend vaccination for persons 12 and older.
  • Wearing masks: There will be times, such as when a student is eating or drinking, when masks can be removed.   (I will comment on outdoor activity, extra-curricular events and sports below.)
  • Maintaining appropriate distances. This includes the cafeterias, hallways, and classes and other spaces. The building administrators will explain these to their communities before the year starts.
  • Good handwashing and personal hygiene.

What will the daily schedules look like? 

The schedules will be similar to those we employed prior to entering the pandemic with minor adjustments.   

The high school will be using a two-day schedule, known locally as Black and Gold days. This is the same as the spring semester of last year.

The middle schools will have essentially the same amount of time for academics as in previous years although a few minutes will be used at the end of the day for students to return to  homeroom for dismissal.

The elementary schools will also have schedules that will feel normal to the students, meaning they will run closely to what has happened in the past, with adjustments to observe the wellbeing of our learning community.

We are working to make the lunch experience operate in a manner that is both relaxing and sociable while also keeping students at an appropriate distance. There may be assigned seating.

Will the students be required to wear masks on the buses?

Yes, there are federal requirements about public transportation that require masks and school buses are considered to be public transportation. If families transport their children, the students will have to put on masks before entering the buildings.

How similar will a daily schedule in the new year be when compared to the final weeks of the last school year?

Given the similarity in mitigation strategies, including distance and movement around the buildings, the flow of a day will be similar to what the children and adults experienced upon their return to in-person schooling last year.   

If a student is new to the building or a family is new to town, will the schools provide orientation?

Yes, the building administrators are currently putting together plans for orientation and welcoming our new community members.

What about athletics and extracurricular activities?

Activities that are held outside the building will not require masks if the distances between individuals are appropriate and the duration of interactions are brief. There will be age-appropriate oversight of students.  There might be situations where an outside event continues to need masking.  

Athletic competitions and practices must conform to the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) requirements. The CIAC issued a document called “Safe Return to In-Person Instruction & Continuity of Services Plan” on August 12, 2021. Our Region 9 Director of Athletics will be working with our coaches and athletes.  (https://casciac.org/).

Extra-curricular activities will also have to observe masking and other mitigation strategies based on whether they are inside or outside. There will be other factors, too, such as how we will handle musical instruments that are woodwinds, but the details will not be addressed in this email.  

Who is working on these plans, and how will changes be made in the event of changes in circumstances such as infection rates, vaccination rates, and local surges if they occur?

There is a reopening committee (Stay Open, Stay Engaged Committee), led by the Assistant Superintendent and the Nurse Coordinator. This group will continue to organize and develop practices and guides as the situation warrants. We will always comply with the directions we receive from the Office of the Governor in conjunction with the State Department of Education and the State Department of Public Health and/or the Legislature. Our work will continue to be closely conducted in alliance with and at the direction of our local health officials.

Will there be more information as we get closer to the reopening?

Yes, and again I urge you to consult the www.er9.org website.

As this is already a lengthy email, I will close at this point. But, this will not be the final word from the office of the Superintendent. Having worked with the good people of these two towns as well as the faculties and the staffs of the schools, I offer this observation: You have many strong veterans who have been in the schools for many years. True, there are new people, but each school has a core of committed educators and dedicated support staff members who will be present to go through this school year with our students.

We believe in our own A, B, Cs: Academic Excellence, Building a Caring Community, and Cultivating Future-Ready Learners. We believe in our students. As with all aspirations, we know there is more to be done in each of those categories. We look forward to such work.

It will be a good year. I promise more next week.

Respectfully,

Tom McMorran, Ed.D.
Interim Superintendent
Easton, Redding and Region 9 School Districts

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