WATERTOWN — The Board of Education, meeting Monday, July 27, unanimously approved the updated school calendar in response to the governor’s reduction in the number of required school days, from 180 to 177, which is intended to allow for professional learning as the district begins the 2020-2021 school year.

Students in kindergarten to ninth grade will start on September 1 and students in grades 10 to 12 will start on September 2.

Superintendent Dr. Rydell Harrison said the change will make for a smoother school start.

As of June 27, Watertown schools are projected to open with a low risk of spread of the coronavirus, per the re-entry plan.

During the meeting, the superintendent reviewed the plan, thanking those who had worked on the details, incorporating national and local health guidelines.

The plan had been sent to the state on July 24 and shared with the community on July 25, highlighting three priorities to focus on health and wellbeing of students.

Protocols in health and safety will allow all students to return to school in the fall as each district in the state determines how to approach the return.

Dr. Harrison explained he was one of a small group of superintendents to work with Columbia University, which is working to provide guidelines for equitable and high-quality distance learning.

He reported that Watertown’s experience directly impacted this study and will inform the state’s approach.

Watertown schools will implement social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, enhanced learning and disinfecting, and grouping students into cohorts in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

The option of voluntary remote learning is available and Dr. Harrison said that all of these students will be issued a device and there will be some level of live streaming so they can watch what is happening in the classroom.

The hours spent in distance learning may not match one-to-one with the in-person model and families will be expected to supervise and engage their children and the option may not be available for the entire school year if public health data supports that change.

Attendance will be tracked and any statewide assessments will be taken in person.

“We are really encouraging families to let us know well ahead of time,” Dr. Harrison said, adding that a count of students is critical to good planning and that parents can elect to send their children to school later in the year when they started with distance learning.

While the current conditions are favorable, the risk level for the spread of the coronavirus as described in local health district information will be monitored and determine if the school continues use of an in-person learning model or moves to a hybrid or remote learning model.

In-person will implement a traditional schedule with added health and safety measures and the hybrid model will divide students alphabetically by last name so that each group will attend two days in person and one at home.

Bus capacity will follow the same models with bus monitors at both the low and moderate risk level scenarios.

During public participation, residents asked questions about monitoring on buses; Dr. Harrison reminded those present that there will be protocols to check on children and sanitize the vehicles during runs.

Athletics will follow CIAC safety restrictions and protocols in the low risk model, be suspended for indoor activities in the moderate risk model with outdoor activities. All athletics would be suspended in the high-risk model.

Dr. Harrison also reported on the additional training that will take place for staff and students, so that everyone is using health and wellbeing best practices.

Parents will be involved so that families can reinforce good habits.

Passive and active screening will be used to monitor symptoms; the former is a self-assessment to ensure body temperature is below 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the latter will include wellness checks at the schools.

A mechanism is in place to ensure that communication is effective between a school, the district, and health officials if a student or teacher is exposed to the coronavirus.

Details of the re-entry plan are available at www.watertownps.org.

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