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Superintendent's Message April 8, 2021

Good morning,

I am writing today to provide an update on several items, including the district’s plans in response to the growing number of positive cases in the community.  

Wednesday delayed openings beginning April 21

Last evening, the Board of Education approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Fairfield Education Association.  Beginning Wednesday, April 21, and continuing each Wednesday through the remainder of the school year, there will be a 90 minute delayed start to the school day, at all levels.  This time is being provided to teachers to support their instructional planning needs and to ensure the best quality of instruction given the challenges of teaching simultaneously to students in school and at home. Teachers will also be available during this time to support individual students’ learning needs.  

We recognize that this will present challenges to family schedules.  Please know this is a needed schedule change that will support the needs of all learners through the remainder of the year.  We hope that students will benefit from some additional rest in the middle of the week. We will also work with our current before school care program providers to help support elementary families.

On every Wednesday beginning April 21 the start times for the schools are as follows -

High School - 9:00 am

Middle School and Holland Hill - 9:40 am

Elementary School - 10:30 am

This time change applies to the RLA program as well.

This time change does not impact the CLC, CLCS, ECC, TLC, and CPP programs.

Schedules will be adjusted for other students who currently receive services Wednesday mornings.  Parents will be contacted by their schools.

Learning plan changes?

The rise in numbers has raised two primary questions for families and staff:  Will we return to a hybrid learning model?  Will we go into remote instruction after April break?

Let us start with what is the desired impact of moving away from full, in-person learning.  The first goal of any change in learning model would be to improve the safety conditions in the schools.  If we were seeing increased in-school transmission, we would move from in-person learning as a mitigation strategy to stop transmission.  Even though our overall number of student cases is rising, we have only had a few isolated cases of in-school transmission since the beginning of the year.  Given the number of daily interactions in the school system, the number is very low and does not warrant a change in learning model. Further, the total number of staff cases has dropped considerably and has remained under six since February 1, 2021.

The second issue is an instructional one.  While a good number of our students and their families have prospered in the Remote Learning Academy, we recognize that in-person learning is the most appropriate learning model for many.  If the health data supports continuation of that model then hybrid or remote will not be an improvement of instruction.  Either hybrid or remote promise short-term stability for instruction but they are not long-term solutions that will take us to June 18. 

Given the above, and our current set of health data, we will continue with in-person learning through and past April break.  Please know we will continue to monitor the health data and if, after break, we see concerns with in-school transmission, we will adjust our plans. We are very concerned with the increase in the positivity rate in Fairfield and if the upward trend continues serious consideration must be given to a change in learning models.

Close Contact and Quarantines

Close contacts, defined by the CDC and the state DPH, remain defined as anyone within 6 feet for a cumulative 15 minutes over 24 hours.  We will follow that definition.

There have been questions about the number of students and staff who are in quarantine.  It is not a surprise that the number of quarantined students and staff would increase when students returned to full-time, in-person instruction.  We saw this in January in K-5, and it is now happening at all levels.  The virus variants are more easily spread, particularly among children and adolescents, the number of out-of-school activities have increased, warmer weather has increased community get togethers, and there has been, in the actions of some, a decrease in mitigation efforts.  Things are opening up and with that, both good things and bad things are happening.

What has been true all year remains true; the schools are one of the safest places for anyone to be.  By the time we return from April break, the majority of our teaching staff will be fully vaccinated.  And this is true, our strength in keeping students and staff safe lies in a community approach.  When people ignore mitigation and do not take precautions there will be more positive cases and more quarantines.  We will continue to follow the CDC guidelines of quarantining at 6-foot distances. 

Collectively we own the responsibility to reduce the number of cases and the number of quarantines.  So, if you are traveling over April break, please do not consider the state’s recommendation as “just a recommendation”.  For the sake of the students and staff, follow the recommendations as requirements and keep your children home following travel. Details are in the Spring Break Travel Advisory. Keep others safe, and in school. 

As we did over the holiday break, there will be no in-school contact tracing beginning Friday afternoon, until we return on April 19.  The Health Department will follow up on out-of-school contact tracing for any reported cases.  Please continue to use the FPS hotline 203-255-8785 to report cases over the break.

One more point of information.  We will be working with the state and town to review the possibility of providing in-school testing and vaccination clinics for older students.  There is still much to be determined to make these plans and the timeline is not precise.  As always, we will communicate updates to you immediately.

I hope that you have a restful and healthy April vacation.  If you are traveling, have a great and safe time.  And when you return, stay home until it is safe to return to school.

Take care, Mike

Michael Cummings
Superintendent of Schools