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Students Worry About School Reopening

Barlow classroom set up for limited seating and social distancing. — Chloe Rozendaal Photo

When Joel Barlow High School closed in March, most students expected to return after a two-week vacation. Five months later, students are unsure if school will ever return to normal and seniors are wondering if they will get any aspect of the last year they envisioned.

The current plan for reopening has the student body divided alphabetically, with only two days of in-person instruction out of five for the first four weeks. With some colleges shutting down one week into the fall semester, student and parent confidence in returning fully to school has diminished. 

“I think that four weeks will keep getting extended like quarantine was,” said senior Reese Costenbader.

Senior Rene Itah said, “I honestly don’t believe that splitting the kids up by last name makes any sense. Nothing short of fully online learning can keep everyone safe.” In order to prevent an outbreak, Itah also said “the school needs to make sure that students feel comfortable staying homesick.”

Barlow hallway divided for social distancing. — Chloe Rozendaal Photo

Even with social distancing and face coverings, will the virus still spread when students are in close quarters? The fear of a mass outbreak is further complicated by the fact that many youths can be asymptomatic carriers who pass along the virus to unknowing family members or school staff.

“I think once schools reopen, cases will surge again with everyone being in the same building,” Reese said.

“Every day staff will enter the school to work and be at the mercy of the lowest common denominator,” said Alisha Gorder, parent of Barlow juinor Anya Gorder. “It’s a tremendous leap of faith for all of us.”

Aside from Covid-19 worsening, the fast approaching flu season prompts further concern. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the 2019-2020 flu season had 39 million cases and 24,000 deaths. Assuming that vaccine numbers remain the same, how many will shrug off potential Covid-19 symptoms as being the flu or a cold, and how many will report flu symptoms as Covid-19? How will hospitals manage this tsunami of patients? The upcoming flu outbreak compounds the likelihood of a return to distance learning.

“Everyone gets sick during flu season, ” said Anya, who will start the school year completely online. “Add Covid and it just gets bigger.”

Another of the many unknowns racing through the minds of students is the prospect of a second wave. Historically, as with the 2009 H1N1 virus and the 1918 Spanish flu, colder weather brings an onslaught of new cases. It is also still unknown if a person can get Covid-19 twice, which could exacerbate the second wave. 

“I definitely expect a second wave, but I hope we’ll be more prepared this time around,” said senior Chloe Rozendaal.

Barlow students will come back to school on Sept. 8 starved for social interaction. After months of not seeing classmates in-person, enforcing social distancing guidelines seems to be an impossible task.

“A lot of kids won’t take this seriously,” said Chloe. “Everyone my age thinks they either won’t get symptoms or they’ll recover quickly.” 

“People are socializing in large groups already,” said Anya. “We need our friends. We need to socialize. I want to see my teachers and interact with them and have real conversations. That’s just gone.”

The overall mindset of invincibility among young people will likely result in a defiance of social distancing during school.

In response to the question of whether or not students will ever fully return to school, Rene sums up the student perspective: “I really don’t know. It all depends on how responsible people will be in terms of getting tested and staying home if they’re sick.”

As summer winds down and the first day of school inches closer, students have much more than first-day jitters to worry about. Regardless of the school year pans out, however, one thing is certain: Students will adapt and persevere.




Articles from the Courier 8/24/20 – 8/30/20

In case you missed it: Check out these articles posted in the Easton Courier in the past week, from Monday, August 24 to Sunday, August 30.

Don’t forget to subscribe to email notifications. It’s free, and you control the frequency. You can enter your email address here: https://eastoncourier.news/subscribe/. You control your notification preferences.

Op-Ed: Patience, Caution and Flexibility Needed as Some Schools Reopen Next Week

Hughes Writes Open Letter to Colleagues on Systemic Racism

Sunday Nature Walk: Birds in Our Own Backyard

The Apple Barn – A Slice of Easton History

A Message from First Selectman Bindelglass

Easton Responds to Calls for Anti-Racism

Two Firefighters Injured Responding to House Fire

Greiser’s Does the Pandemic Pivot — Again

Mambert Road: Old Percy

Church Community Still Available Even at a Distance

Why Our Emotions Are So Valuable

Unclear About Long-Term Care Insurance? You Have Lots of Company

Letter: Shaban Led, Hughes Blamed

Michelle McCabe Endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice CT

Sherwood Farm Preserves the Past, Embraces the Future

Aquarion Water Diversion Zoom Public Meeting Is Wednesday, Aug. 26

Easton Police Log August 17 – August 23

Articles from the Easton Courier 8/17 – 8/23

Get Ready for a Dazzling Display!

A Message from First Selectman Bindelglass

Board of Selectmen Meeting of Aug. 20

Easton Arts Council Presents Nancy White Memorial Awards




Articles from the Courier 8/03/20 – 8/16/20

In case you missed it: Check out these articles posted in the Easton Courier in the past two weeks, from Monday, Aug. 3 to Sunday, August 16.

This week’s digest includes two weeks of stories because Tropical Storm Isaias knocked out power and internet to most of Easton and for the Easton Courier editors for a period of time from Aug. 4 to 11, depending on the area.

Don’t forget to subscribe to email notifications. It’s free, and you control the frequency. You can enter your email address here: https://eastoncourier.news/subscribe/. You control your notification preferences.

Obituary: Phyllis Ringenberg Ewing, 95

Sunday Nature Walk: Soaring with the Red-Tailed Hawk

Hughes to Propose Utility Customer Bill of Rights

Then & Now – The Easton Town Hall

Police Reform: Too Rushed or Too Delayed?

Message from First Selectman Bindelglass

On Your Mark, Get Ready: Easton 175th Anniversary Virtual 5k Starts Soon

Living In Darkness

Easton’s Alisha Gorder Publishes Debut Novel

Drive-in Trivia Night Is Friday, Aug. 14

Op-Ed: Leadership in a Storm

Church Community in the Midst of a World Pandemic

Harry L. Green Exhibits His Art at the Easton Library

Schools to Reopen with Hybrid Model on Sept. 8

Easton Releases Unofficial Presidential Primary Results

Health Concerns Drive Bipartisan Action In General Assembly Special Session

Easton and Redding Schools Name New Superintendent

Car Accident on Sport Hill Knocks Out Power

Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town

Update on Storm Clearing

Reflections on the Summer Storm

Easton Police Log August 3 – August 9

Hwang Calls For Investigation of Eversource Following Tropical Storm Isaias

A Brief Message from First Selectman Bindelglass (with Links to Recent Messages)

A Bit Deliberate

Easton Community Comes Together Over Isaias

Isaias Leaves Massive Outages, Downed Trees

Bracing for a Wild Day of Weather from Tropical Storm Isaias

Easton Police Log July 27 – August 2

Easton Close to Starting One-Year Contract with Westport Weston Health District

Articles from the Courier 7/27/20 – 8/2/20

Easton Prepares for Tropical Storm Isaias

Dr. Stephanie Pierson Ugol Named Interim ER9 Superintendent




Message from First Selectman Bindelglass

Update for 8/14/2020

Good afternoon,

As we end the week that began with the aftermath of the storm and many of us without power, cell service, land lines or internet, we return to “COVID-19 normal”. A quick reminder to limit social gatherings, wear masks in public and sanitize and/or wash your hands often!

What has emerged from this past week is that we have incredibly dedicated public servants. Despite devastating damage, our roads were quickly reopened under the direction and tireless work of the Department of Public Works led by Ed Nagy and Jason Perkins and our Police and Emergency Management led by Chief Richard Doyle.

Together, they led our communication with United Iluminating’s “make safe” crews to get the trees and wires off the roads and out of the way. Fire and EMS responded to numerous calls, and our Senior Center staff did whatever it took to make sure our seniors got what they needed. I am sure this is an incomplete list of all those who pitched in, but I personally am grateful to all who helped.

Unless you were out and about, it is hard to imagine what all of these folks accomplished. I would ask that should you come into contact with any of our town staff, please thank them and acknowledge their hard work. I am told they like cookies! 

I also got to meet some of the fine young people who serve in our Connecticut National Guard, who also helped us out, rolling into town like the cavalry. I have thanked them for their service and the governor for sending them to help us.

The next step is our cleanup mode. DPW will be hard at work breaking down and removing trees from the side of our roads. This may take several weeks to complete. Their job is to remove trees that fell on the roads and in the public right of way, roughly 10 feet from the side of the roadway.

It is NOT to remove trees that came down on private property. Trees, branches and debris on private residential property will not be removed by the town. This is the homeowner’s responsibility. You may hire a landscaper, rent a chipper, compost the debris or visit the Fire Department for a burn permit. Our crews have a tremendous amount of work ahead of them, so please respect this request.

Next week the department heads who are part of the emergency management team will meet to discuss procedural improvements for future storms.  From my office, I am working to find the connectivity to get reverse 911 calls out sooner. We will work on cell tower maintenance to make certain the battery back-ups are up to date and that generator back up is brought in more quickly so we can keep cell service up and running.

We need to make sure 911 is always functioning. Some other suggestions I have received are to provide dry ice for food preservation, bottled water in addition to the water offered at the Police Department, enabling WiFi access perhaps in the library parking lot, and showers and cooling stations are also on the list. We also intend on offering either downloadable updates on generator building codes and maintenance, and perhaps even a Generator 101 flyer or video. 

Please feel free to contact me via the town web site or Janet at JHaller@eastonct.gov with suggestions for future storm response.  I will also, in the coming weeks, be assembling focus groups to discuss things like storm preparedness/response and the Optimum/Cablevision alternatives.

Through the organizations of small towns and municipality groups to which we belong, we will be participating in the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) investigation of the response by UI to this storm. If there are corrective actions or reparations, Easton will participate. We are exploring our options now with the law firm of Berchem Moses.

The Easton Board of Education has postponed the start of school until Sept. 8. Plans for how the schools will open are posted on the er9.org website and here. We acknowledge the incredible job being done by acting superintendent Dr. Stephanie Pierson-Ugol.  On behalf of Easton, please join me in welcoming Dr. Rydell Harrison, our incoming superintendent.

Have a great weekend!

Dave Bindelglass

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Message from First Selectman Bindelglass, Update for Aug. 1 Weekend

First Selectman David Bindelglass released the following statement about the state’s pandemic response, July tax collections, police accountability legislation, the Westport Weston Health District, and school reopening guide lines:

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer. Fortunately, we continue to do well as a state, all the more so, because as you know most states are not fairing nearly as well. Currently, there are 36 states that are high risk. Staying in the northeast is probably the safest way for you and our community to stay disease free. For that reason the Governor has issued executive orders requiring 14 days of quarantine for travel to one of these high risk states. Although the method has not been made clear, there will potentially be fines of up to $1000 for violations. Many companies will not allow workers to claim sick time or be paid for the quarantine time as travelling for vacation to one of these states is a choice. More action from the state may be forthcoming.

July is tax collection month and the Town appears to be doing well on two fronts. First the process for paying including our new online payment method and the controlled access to town hall to pay in person are going well. Second, despite the economic issues our country is facing, we are seeing very good rates of collection in Easton. Thank you on both counts.

Many of you may know that both houses of the Connecticut legislature have passed police accountability legislation. I want to let you know that I meet regularly with Chief Doyle to review our policies and procedures. There will be a process for implementing the new regulations arising from this bill once it is law. This is the highest of priorities for the police department and for the town. I greatly appreciate the Chief’s efforts.

The Westport Weston health district has hired a new sanitarian that will be responsible for Easton. He will be located in our Easton office two days a week with similar hours to our current sanitarian, Polly Edwards. We will delay our association with the health district for several weeks  until he is fully on board. Again, Polly and Dr. Chris Michos have agreed to hold on for a few more weeks to see this transition through, and we thank them, yet again, for their service.

In regards to schools, on Thursday the state issued new guidelines for not only opening schools but for indications to transition from full classes to hybrid to distant learning based on metrics for the virus, i.e. rates of hospitalizations, test positivity and case growth. Even as we get closer and closer to a potential opening day, there are so many questions. I can only urge patience. Our central office staff and Boards of Education are working feverishly to plan in an ever changing landscape. I view major league baseball as a cautionary tale. It took one whole weekend to affect everything that had been planned for weeks. Hopefully, we will do better, but there will be more information that continues to come out.

Have a great weekend. Be safe and be careful. For are young adults especially, keep up the good work. You are a tribute to our community and have played a great part in keeping us all safe.

Dave Bindelglass

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ER9 Update from Superintendent McMorran

Note: Dr. McMorran sent the following email updates to the ER9 community on Friday, July 17. — Easton Courier editors.

Dear Friends and Families of ER9:

If you don’t have time to read my email today, please consider attending the upcoming meetings of the Boards of Education for ER9.

JOIN THE MEETING

On Monday, July 20, the Boards of Education of Easton, Redding and Region 9 will hold a concurrent virtual meeting at 6 p.m.  The agenda includes a link to the meeting, which will be recorded and soon thereafter posted on the website.  You can access the agenda at www.er9.org.  Look for “Upcoming Events.”   On Tuesday, the Region 9 BOE will hold an additional meeting to discuss the plans for reopening the high school in greater detail.

A CARING AND CONCERNED STAFF AND FACULTY

The staff and faculty who are tasked with educating our boys and girls are largely the same people who were with us on March 13 when we closed the schools and shifted to Distance Learning.   They are people who are dedicated professionals who care deeply for children and are committed to academic success each day.  I say this because it is easy to lose track of the human aspect of teaching and learning.

OUR STUDENTS

Our boys and girls are neighbors, friends, long-time residents who have only lived in Easton or Redding, and we expect new faces, not just our littlest ones who are starting the adventure of school, but also new students who have moved to our towns from more congested areas.

IT’S NEVER ACCEPTABLE TO BE MEAN TO OTHERS

Some boys and girls struggle with medical issues that prevent them from being able to wear masks.  The school’s expectation will be that everyone who can wear a mask will wear a mask.  However, we will all have to work not to stigmatize and frighten those who cannot.  In some cases these children — and can we remember please that all of our students are children — might be able to wear face shields (the schools have a supply).  I respectfully ask all families to begin conversations now about how students who can wear masks should wear their masks but more importantly how another person’s medical situation should never be the subject of unkindness. 

THE CONTENT OF OUR CHARACTER

This is an ongoing crisis, and we will have to rely on the character of our towns.  The call is to be the kind, welcoming, supportive and friendly people during a crisis that we are when all is well.  It’s in our deepest history, from Colonial times, when the Staples and the Sherwoods, the Adams and the Sanfords, the Snows, the Beeches, and so many others set down their roots, that neighbors help each other.  Together, you can accomplish so much. Our ancestors used to come together for barn-raising and fellowship. You must come together for education and wellbeing.

A LAYERED STRATEGY AND A LAYERED DEFENSE

There are three ways we can contract the Covid-19 infection:  (1) We can touch a surface that has the virus and then touch our faces; (2) we can inhale what a person carrying the virus exhales; (3) or we can inhale air that has the virus lingering. This calls for a layered defense. First, we have to establish cleaning routines for our common surfaces because constant cleaning destroys the virus. Second, we should maintain the six foot distance when possible and wear masks in order to protect ourselves and others. Third, we should use spacing, face shields, and plexiglass or translucent barriers when and where appropriate.

We have all seen these strategies work effectively in Connecticut because the majority of us have observed them. We have seen it in restaurants, barber shops, grocery stores and other places. We have learned that events held outside provide better conditions for remaining safe.

The Reopening Plan has taken the layered defense strategy into account. Our classrooms will be arranged differently when our boys and girls can return with reasonable expectations of safety. Desks will be spaced differently, some materials will not be shared, shared surfaces wiped down with regularity and so forth. This email is not meant to provide a detailed explanation. That will be released early next week.

THREE PHASES OF THE PLAN

If the situation in Connecticut continues to trend well, and the infection rate remains low, then one phase for the start of school will be a return to the building. This is what the governor has directed: A full, five-day return to a safer school. Some parents might opt to retain their children at home; there will be an option for students to participate remotely, but I will tell you right now that it will not be in all respects the equivalent of real-time, in-the-classroom teaching and learning. It simply cannot be.

If conditions change, and the governor determines that a full return to school is not suitable, then a hybrid phase has been developed. Students will be divided into two cohorts (and the arrangement will be such that all children in the same family will be in the same grouping regardless of grade, i.e. alphabetically by last name), and half of the students will be brought in on different days to minimize contact. In this plan some students would be physically present while the other grouping is virtual. No student would come into the building on Wednesdays, and that would allow for continual deep cleaning. We recognize this will impact parent work schedules, and we are working with districts in our region to align the hybrid schedule.

If conditions trend back into increased infection rates that require it, we will return to Distance Learning with all students and staff participating from home.

DETAILS

You will have dozens of questions. The detailed plan has been designed to address every aspect of education from how the buses will operate to when and where the students will eat lunch. Some parents will email their administrators asking for individualized and comprehensive responses. Please understand that your assistant superintendent and the building level administrators have been working without respite to get this plan pulled together. Each time they have to pause and respond individually, that robs us of time to make the plan better. We suggest you attend the meetings of the Boards of Education as well as join and participate in your PTA, PTO or PTSA. We want to be responsive, but we need every hour between now and the opening of school.

To help us train and orient the staff and faculty, the governor has authorized the use of up to three days from the 180 student days for Professional Development and training before the students come in. If the boards were to adopt  this, these days would be used to orient teachers before the students return to school.

PARTNERSHIPS

Your teachers deserve our support and gratitude. They, too, are contemplating the impact and consequences of returning to their classrooms. Some of them may not be able to, due to medical reasons, and we are all required to protect and observe the privacy rights of others where matters pertaining to health are involved. The teacher unions are working with the administration.

CONCLUSION

Over the last two decades, education has become more expensive (I understand that better than anyone), more pressurized, more high consequence, more tested and in many ways less joyful as a result. We are afraid and worried. When people are afraid and worried, they don’t always make the best decisions. I will draw this email to a close with two observations: First, you have excellent, wonderful and dedicated representatives on your three boards. Support them as they guide the schools.  Second, hold onto Easton and Redding’s enduring belief that being a child in a school should be a joyful experience. At this time, that means in addition to demanding safety and learning, you as the two towns will have to practice kindness, forgiveness, tolerance, and be emotionally supportive of each other. You can do this.

PARENT SURVEY

The assistant superintendent will release a feedback survey to the parent and guardian community after the Reopening Plan has been presented to the Boards of Education.  Look for it next week. Your feedback is important to our refinement of the plan.

I am genuinely sorry that I will not be here to work through this period with you. It is time for me to move on (in just a few days), but I have TOTAL confidence in the learning community of ER9, especially the fantastic Administrative team.

Tom McMorran

Superintendent of Schools

Easton, Redding and Region 9 School Districts




McMorran Updates Community on Reopening Schools in the Fall

School Superintendent Dr. Thomas McMorran sent the following message to the Easton and Redding communities today, updating them on Gov. Ned Lamont’s plans for Connecticut about reopening state schools in the fall.

Dear Friends and Families of ER9:

Governor Lamont announced yesterday the state’s plans for a reopening of school in the buildings.  Under the leadership of our Asst. Superintendent, Dr. Stephanie Pierson Ugol, our administrators have already been working on the many details and decisions that must be made in order for our five schools to be ready in the fall for a return to “brick and mortar” education. 

The state will release more comprehensive directions to the local school districts next week, and we will be working to comply with and align our practice with this guidance.

I know you will have many questions about safety, transportation, instructional practices, food service and all the many elements of operating a school. We will continue to update you regularly.  

Here are the six guiding principles from the attached Executive Summary statement:

1. Safeguarding the health & safety of students and staff; 

2. Allowing all students the opportunity to return into the classrooms full time starting in the fall; 

3. Monitoring the school populations and, when necessary, potentially cancelling classes in the future to appropriately contain COVID-19 spread; 

4. Emphasizing equity, access, and support to the students and communities who are emerging from this historic disruption; 

5. Fostering strong two-way communication with partners such as families, educators and staff; and 

6. Factoring into decisions about reopening the challenges to the physical safety and social-emotional well-being of our students when they are not in school.

Press Conference Videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7h5PMkF8cj4&feature=youtu.be

Slides: https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/SDE/COVID-19/Reopening_Slides.pdf

Executive Summary: https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/SDE/COVID-19/Reopening_Executive_Summary.pdf

Thank you, and I wish you sunshine, rest and good health.

Tom McMorran,

Superintendent of Schools

Easton, Redding and Region 9 School Districts