BETHLEHEM-WOODBURY — Region 14 will move to remote synchronous learning beginning Friday, November 20, School Superintendent Joseph Olzacki, Ph.D., announced last week.

Students will be required to sign in from home for supportive learning on Wednesday and Thursday, November 18 and 19, as teachers prepare. The district will remain in remote learning through Tuesday, January 19, if it safe to return at that time.

“Remote synchronous learning is defined as teachers working with students in a virtual environment,” Dr. Olzacki said. Parents will receive letters at home regarding specific schedules and expectations, he said.

The Region 14 Board of Education held a special meeting on Wednesday, November 11, to discuss options and the reasoning behind closing school until after Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.

Although it appears that transmission of Covid-19 is taking place outside the schools, in social situations, it is having a significant impact on school operations, Dr. Olzacki said. Not only are students becoming ill, the number of staff who are ill or are quarantined because they were in close contact with someone who is ill has been increasing.

In addition, the school district has been unable to hire enough substitutes to replace teachers who are unable to come to school.

The school nurse in Bethlehem is under quarantine and there are no substitute nurses, Dr. Olzacki said. Although the district was able to shuffle around school nurses so that someone could cover Bethlehem Elementary while another nurse covers both Mitchell Elementary and nearby Woodbury Middle School, the situation was becoming dire.

In order to continue teaching and learning, school principals had stepped in to teach classes when necessary, keeping them away from the job of leading the school, he said.

As the holidays approached, parents began sharing travel plans, Dr. Olzacki said, and it was clear that in many instances students would be leaving the state to travel to other states where transmission rates are high.

Many students might be returning to school after being unknowingly exposed to Covid-19, thus exposing other students.

Cohorts and contact tracing had worked thus far, but it was obvious to school administrators that the system was becoming overwhelmed by the number of new cases and the threat of additional exposures.

While it might be possible to shut down a given school for a few days then reopen, the school might need to be shut down again in short order, Dr. Olzacki explained.

At this point, it seemed the wisest choice was to shut down the schools from Thanksgiving through Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, allowing for 14-day quarantine periods after Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, when family get-togethers might cause exposure.

Dr. Olzacki said it was his preference to continue in-person instruction, as that was the most effective model and most beneficial to students’ social and emotional well-being, but continually starting and stopping in-person learning was more disruptive than simply going to all remote.

Also, with remote learning, teachers who are under quarantine, but feeling fine, can still teach their classes remotely.

The original plan, discussed at the special meeting, was to try to make it to the Thanksgiving break, using November 18 to prepare teachers. The district would distribute laptops to teachers to replace the Chromebooks they had been using and use the week to make sure the staff was comfortable with the technology.

Neal Lustig, executive director of the Pomperaug Health District, was on hand during the November 11 special meeting to provide information and insight into the state’s coronavirus numbers.

He told the board it was likely that Woodbury would stay in the red category. Southbury, Bethlehem and Oxford were categorized as red by the end of last week.

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