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)