By Robert D. Utter
NORTH STONINGTON – At just about 1 p.m. today, all public schools in North Stonington closed “until further notice effective immediately,” and students were informed they wouldn't be returning to school after their three day weekend.
The threat of the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus caused the LEARN Regional Education Service Center and the superintendents of the area’s 26 school districts to announce the closing of all public schools districts in the region “for at least two weeks.”
By 2:30, teachers in town had mostly completed their plans for the closure and finished putting together supplemental activities packets for all students in the elementary school. The packets now sit in baskets and boxes – all by class and student name – in the hallway outside the elementary school’s temporary office in the old high school.
The closing of the schools happened quickly, but many knew it was coming.
“We figured it out yesterday,” said Addie Richter. The teachers had been handing out additional materials, she said, and she and her family had been watching the news.
She and her brother Evan, both sixth-graders, were at the Wheeler Library with their dad Fred, after the schools closure was announced. They were picking up great stacks of books to keep them occupied at home.
“It’s kind of good and kind of bad,” she and Evan agreed. It means they can sleep past 6:30 in the morning, for example.
But baseball and softball have both been cancelled, Fred said, and the Drama Club’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” has been postponed until the end of April.
It’s too early to tell how the school closing and having the children at home will change their family life, Fred Richter said. He is in the Navy and his wife teaches at a pre-school in Ledyard that is still open.
‘It’s not like summertime with camps,” Fred pointed out.
Many details of the closed schools will have to be worked out, such as who will be working where and when. Hourly employees are in limbo until a policy can be made. “We’re working on that now,” District Superintendent Peter Nero said.
“I’ve been doing this work just short of half a century,” Nero said. “I’ve been through two wars, numerous huge storms, seven presidents, 9/11… but I’ve never seen anything like this.”
There wasn’t time to complete plans for distance learning, to provide computer access to students without it, to address the distance learning and counseling requirements of special needs students, said Nero. “Some have speech and hearing issues, some need occupational and physical therapy,” he said. So like most other districts, North Stonington saw closing schools as the only option.
The 180-day rule
While Governor Ned Lamont suspended the rule requiring 180 days of school for the 2019-2020 school year for schools closed due to COVID-19 risks, the idea is to allow schools to stay open through June 30th 2020 and use “distance learning or other alternatives” as long as the approved alternative methods “comply with all legal and regulatory requirements.”
As of Thursday, March 12, North Stonington students had attended 120 days of school, leaving another 60 days to go. That means students must find a way to attend another 12 weeks of school by June 30.
If schools are kept closed for more than two weeks, other ways must be found to complete their instruction.
For food-insecure students
Some students in North Stonington get most of their meals in school. Those food-insecure students will be able to continue to get food while the schools are closed, said district social worker Linda Costanza. For the last 40 years, she has run a food pantry in North Stonington schools, supported by student food drives.
“We’re a close-knit school,” she said today, adding that school district will give food to any student who needs food. Students or their families should call her on her cell phone – 860-460-1675 – to arrange to either pick up food or have food delivered.
Anyone who would like to donate food to the pantry should contact her and arrange to leave food at the superintendent’s office at 298 Norwich-Westerly Road.
The LEARN Region
The LEARN Region includes the following school districts:
Norwich Free Academy
Region 4 (Chester, Deep River, and Essex)
Region 13 (Durham and Middlefield)
Region 17 (Haddam and Killingworth)
Region 18 (Lyme and Old Lyme)
by Margaret Leonard
NORTH STONINGTON – On Friday February 21, Robert Priest, who served with the United States Army from 1966 to 1972, with boots on the ground in Vietnam from 1967-1968, presented the Give Back Club with two checks totaling $200.
[The giveback club is a group made up of about eighty Wheeler students who provide community service.] Five students and two advisors will be heading to Augusta, Maine in March to work for the Reavis Mills Foundation. (see the February 13 article)
Mr. Priest of North Stonington, is a member of the Harley P. Chase Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #1265. He was first introduced to Rebecca Schilke, the co-advisor to Wheeler's Give Back Club, at an awards breakfast in January. The breakfast included three Wheeler students who were recognized for essays they had entered in the Patriots Pen patriotic essay writing competition sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
When the opportunity for a trip to Maine to serve a breakfast for Vietnam veterans came up for the Give Back Club), Mrs. Schilke reached out to Post #1265 in request of a donation. Mr. Priest responde, "What a wonderful project you and the students are involved with, although this is short notice I will see what can be done as far as donations.” He then told the VFW that he would match their donation.
By Robert D. Utter
NORTH STONINGTON - A handful of lucky dedicated Wheeler High School students will be headed to Augusta, Maine, early this spring on a remarkable service mission.
Members of the school’s Give Back Club were given the go-ahead by the Board of Education at the board’s regular meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 12, to spend a couple of days working for the Travis Mills Foundation on March 26th and 27th. The foundation invited the students to help serve breakfast to more than 800 Vietnam veterans at the Augusta Armory.
by Margaret Leonard
NORTH STONINGTON - In a message to North Stonington parents Thursday, January 16th, Superintendent of schools, Peter Nero stated, “we are dealing with high winds at present.” In his message, Mr. Nero told of approaching teachers to ensure recess had been moved indoors. As he was making his way to another area of the building for a formal announcement, “we had a sudden burst of high winds and a tree snapped at the church playground that is used by some of our primary grade students. Fortunately, no students were in the area and everyone is fine. Recess for the remainder of the day will be held indoors and tomorrow's outdoor recess will be evaluated accordingly. Again, all students are safe and we are extremely grateful to the teachers and staff and students for being very quick to recognize the danger and react accordingly.”
UPDATE: A recent update has come in from anonymous eyewitnesses stating at least one kindergarten class was on the playground when the tree fell. No physical injuries were reported.
by Margaret Leonard
NORTH STONINGTON - With only a few months to go before completion, the "renovated as new" elementary school is in "full steam ahead" mode.
While the renovation has preceded well, a surprising setback was the discovery of PCBs in the paint on the building’s main support beams. All the PCB-contaminated paint had to be removed.The cost of the set-back had to be taken from the money set aside in the contingency fund. This was money that had been factored in for situations like this. Unfortunately, the town was optimistic going into the project that everything had been thoroughly vetted and there would be money left to demolish the old middle school wing.
In a joint letter dated August 9, 2017 from then Board of Education chairperson, Robert Carlson and Superintendent Peter Nero, it was explained that while they were currently in compliance with the EPA and DEEP, at any point they could be "placed in a position to remediate the environmental issues sooner rather than later."
For more information on PCBs in North Stonington School System, please visit their PCB information page.
At a recent board of selectmen meeting, a motion was made and carried to create a committee to look at all options for the old middle school wing. The committee is expected to explore all options and present solutions to the board of selectmen. In a recent conversation, first selectman Mike Urgo said he is hoping anyone with concerns as to the future of the former Middle School wing, would join the committee.
The Milltown Monitor has reached out to First Selectman Urgo, as well as the School Modernization Committee chair, Pam Potemri, for a dollar figure in relation to the set-back. In a response from Mr. Urgo, "I don't have the exact figures, but it significantly cut into the contingency." We will continue to track this and update you as soon as we have more information.
In a recent tour of the Elementary School, lead by Downes Project Superintendent Giovanni Berardinelli, we were able to see many of the safety upgrades that have been made.
When you first walk into the building you are greeted by a second set of doors, which lead to the main building. To gain access you will check-in at the window to the main office which you will see to your right.
There are also three staircases, replacing the previous two, for faster evacuation. There is also the ability to shut down part of the school during after-school events.
We are hoping for another tour in the near future to view classroom mock-ups.