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Norwich schools will reopen Sept. 8 with hybrid model

Norwich — Norwich public schools will reopen Sept. 8 under the hybrid model, with half the students attending school in person Monday and Tuesday, the other half Thursdays and Fridays and all students in remote learning Wednesdays to allow for deep cleaning of schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The plan follows a regional model for the southeastern Connecticut school districts in the LEARN regional educational service center. The plan has students with last names starting with letters in the first half of the alphabet attending in person Monday and Tuesday, with students with last names in the second half doing remote learning. The positions are reversed for Thursdays and Fridays, and all students will be in remote learning Wednesdays. Scheduled school off days will have no remote classes.

Norwich Free Academy also will start with the hybrid opening model.

Norwich school officials conducted 20 hours of video town hall-style conferences with parents to discuss various opening scenarios. In recent responses, the families of only 9% of students have elected temporary remote learning, making it difficult for Norwich schools, with large class sizes and many small classrooms, to implement full in-person learning with spacing required under state Department of Education guidelines.

“In-person learning opportunities are important for student psychological, academic, nutrition and social/emotional benefits,” Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow wrote in a notice to parents and school staff Thursday announcing the decision. “Average class sizes in NPS tends to be large. Some classrooms are very small, and distancing will be difficult with a full class.”

Norwich schools will start on Sept. 8 for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. During the first week, which begins the Tuesday after Labor Day, students in the first group will attend on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the second group Thursday and Friday. School will dismiss two hours early each day. The half-days will allow students and staff to get used to wearing masks and will allow custodians to do the deep cleaning on Wednesday to prepare for the next group to start Thursday.

Preschool students at the Bishop and Case Street early learning centers, the Norwich Transition Academy and adult education students will receive separate plans, which are not yet finalized, Stringfellow said.

School bus routes will remain the same, with fewer students per bus.

“We will revisit the health data and instructional model again in October as the Governor’s goal is to fully reopen CT schools,” Stringfellow wrote in her letter to parents and staff.

Stringfellow said cost estimates for reopening schools vary, with the hybrid model costing less than full in-person school. The $1.9 million the school district received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act for coronavirus-related expenses has been used to pay for mandatory transportation, unemployment, food services for children, software and computer hardware required for distance learning, personal protective equipment, signage, cleaning products and safety training, Stringfellow said.

“All re-opening scenarios are costly and beyond our budget as approved by the City," she wrote in the notice. “Full reopening requires the greatest financial support.”

Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday that another $160 million in coronavirus relief funds will be made available to school districts to assist with reopening plans. The state Department of Education will open an application process for the funds and will assist districts in determining eligible expenses.

The funds can be used for personal protective equipment, bus monitors to assist students, additional bus routes if necessary, laptops and internet access for students and additional staff for remote learning or social distancing and support staff for students with special learning and language needs.

c.bessette@theday.com

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