OXFORD — Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jason McKinnon updated the Board of Education, meeting on Tuesday, November 10, and later via a Facebook Live event, on plans for further remote learning during the week of Thanksgiving.
He also sent out a letter to parents Friday, November 13, highlighting the current spike of Covid-19 in New Haven County and the health metrics the district is required to follow.
Oxford is in the state’s red category due to having 15.7 cases per 100,000 with the current metrics supporting an immediate move to hybrid model in all schools.
Dr. McKinnon reported that as of November 12, there are 15 positive Covid-19 cases in the district.
Center School has been the only school in Oxford doing full in-person learning. However, the district will have grades kindergarten through grade 8 starting November 16 to November 20 and full remote for the high school.
The hybrid model will have its usual groups A and B and one remote day of learning.
Dr. McKinnon added the district will go full remote the week of Thanksgiving since that is a period where they need to be extra careful since families from other states may be visiting the area.
Schools will be full remote the week after Thanksgiving and will monitor from there whether it is safe to return to classrooms. School officials plan to monitor the period of December 7 to December 23 and provide an update from there.
Dr. McKinnon reported that surrounding towns, including Ansonia and Region 14, plan to go to full remote learning until January 3, 2021, or as far as the week of Martin Luther King Day on January 18.
Special education students will return to school and the new special education director will be working with families during the remote period with an individualized approach.
“We are worried about the increasing positivity rate in New Haven County,” Dr. McKinnon said during the Facebook Live event on November 12.
He said he agreed with Gov. Ned Lamont’s recent phase 2.1 plan of reducing building capacity to only 50 percent and called it the best course of action.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Robert Miller explained the school district’s contact tracing and deep cleaning process. He implored parents and students to stay home if they are exhibiting any symptoms related to Covid-19 for extra precaution.
He also stated people getting Covid-19 tests should be using the PCR testing and stay home for 14 days if that person has come in contact with anyone who might have been exposed to the virus.
Dr. McKinnon said school officials have been working with SONCCA, which will be available for full periods during Oxford’s remote learning time.
People who cannot afford the child-care service can reach out to the district for scholarship opportunities or get assistance in reducing the cost.
Remote learning until Martin Luther King Day is the worst case scenario, according to Dr. McKinnon, but they will prepare for it.
During the Facebook Live event, Fred Browne, M.D., chief medical officer and infectious disease expert at Griffin Hospital, discussed the current health metrics.
He told parents that this is the first time they are seeing this virus, which is one of the main factors causing it to reach the stage of a pandemic.
“We have learned a lot about it,” said Dr. Browne. “It’s an organism similar to the flu and not as severe, but other cases could be.”
He said 95 percent of the population are okay after experiencing the coronavirus, but it’s the 5 percent who can get very sick that is the cause for concern. He explained because Covid-19 has not been seen in humans before, it is leading to many people getting infected.
“If you’re wearing a mask, the likelihood of spreading it to another person is less than 1 percent,” said Dr. Browne. “It’s when you take off the mask, there is the possibility of a higher spread.”
During the presentation, Dr. Browne said a second wave of the virus has been expected, since people are not outside as often during the colder months. He did note the importance of social interactions between students.
“We are social creatures; it’s important that we interact with each other,” said Dr. Browne. “It’s important that we have school and continue to have some sort of face-to-face learning. Having that connection is really important for the development of youth.”
He added the concern is what’s occurring outside of schools and hospitals with social gatherings during which precautions are not taken; he noted Halloween parties as an example.
“We got too relaxed,” said Dr. Browne. “It was bound to happen. It’s important to take the proper precautions at the proper time.
“We need to be extra cautious now, especially if people are coming from out of town.”
Dr. McKinnon explained cases under 10 (per 100,000) favors in-person learning, 10-25 cases leans into hybrid mode for schools and anything over 25 favors remote learning. Oxford and a majority of Connecticut are in the red category with high Covid-19 infection rates.
On November 10, Dr. McKinnon reported 10 Oxford students and one staff member had tested positive for Covid-19, leading to 183 students having to quarantine.
Dr. McKinnon said there is a hard divide between parents reaching out pleading against in-classroom learning and others in favor of in-person learning.
Board member Michael Koosa noted not all of the district’s teachers live in Oxford and they could be facing their own quarantining due to their children in different school districts.
Dr. Miller confirmed it has been an issue already and it could get worse with the Thanksgiving holiday.
During the board meeting, Dr. McKinnon reiterated the district’s priorities which include: health and safety of students and staff; student learning; social emotional wellness; and communication and transparency.
Further updates on the schools and potential reopening can be found on the Oxford School District website or on the district’s Facebook page.