Milford schools prepare for September reopening

Superintendent of Schools Anna Cutaia discusses the Milford schools opening at Pumpkin Delight Elementary School in Milford, Conn. on Thursday, September 10, 2020.

Superintendent of Schools Anna Cutaia discusses the Milford schools opening at Pumpkin Delight Elementary School in Milford, Conn. on Thursday, September 10, 2020.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — When the calendar turns over to Sept. 1, Milford students will be back in school full-time and for the full school hours, said Superintendent Anna Cutaia.

Cutaia added, though, that school officials will continue to keep an eye on five factors for the six weeks between now and the first day of school. These factors include the health and safety of students and staff, social and emotional needs of students and staff, academic factors, resource availability and staff availability.

“Considering those five factors all along the way, I believe have guided us and steered us to make the right decisions for students and staff,” said Cutaia. “We will continue to do so in the year to come.”

The executive orders from Gov. Ned Lamont also are set to expire, and Cutaia said it remains to be seen what will happen after that. But Milford schools would continue to observe the orders, she said.

“Executive orders are legally binding,” she said. “We did seek counsel on that. So as long as there is language in the executive order, we will be following that in Milford.”

Other guidelines the district has to abide by are those set by the Department of Public Health and the Connecticut State Department of Education. Cutaia said a planned meeting between Milford officials and representatives of the state health and education departments had been postponed to wait for an update from the CDC.

“We are hoping to receive something verbally and hopefully, more so in writing so we can make our concrete plan,” she said.

Deepa Joseph, Milford’s health director, said her department was continually updating its guidance to reflect Lamont’s executive orders and state and federal health directives.

“The plan is to continue to do the same moving forward because, again, it has served us well locally,” Joseph said.

Board of Education member Adam De Young asked about the difference in transmission between people being indoors as opposed to outdoors, and how that affects the decision-making. Joseph said it comes down to ventilation, which is why increasing air flow was one of the city’s key mitigation strategies.

De Young also wanted to know what data Joseph had on mental health regarding students wearing masks for a full day. Joseph said she didn’t have any data for that specifically but, she said the pandemic overall has had a significant mental health impact on adults and children.

To make sure Milford Public Schools open safely for students, staff and administration, Cutaia said there would be a multi-point strategy to make the schools safe for students and staff to return.

“When I enumerate this list, please know that they all work together to keep us safe. Masks, social distancing, hand washing, cleaning of facilities, ventilation, use of plexiglass, the layout of our learning spaces, how we transport students, how we serve food, and use of technology,” she said. “All of those pieces are in our plan. How they work together is what keeps us safe.”

Joseph said it was important to incorporate all the strategies even though Milford had not seen a lot of transmission in schools.

“Largely because of the mitigation strategies that we implemented, Milford was in a very good place relative to other school districts that weren’t able to incorporate certain pieces,” she said.

As more information is gathered some things might change, Cutaia said.

“The way we clean buildings this previous year will definitely be revisited in the coming year,” said Cutaia. “Now that we’ve learned so much more about how the virus is passed and is not passed, we are making modifications to our cleaning plan.”

Joseph said it will be important to maintain flexibility with the mitigation strategy as the city receives more information about the virus.

“So much of what has informed our decisions over the past 17 months is community transmission rates, information on how COVID-19 is transmitted, vaccination coverage and other strategies,” she said. “We take those into account in order to determine the best steps moving forward.”

Another factor Joseph and her team are keeping a close eye on is the Delta variant and how that is affecting the positivity rates in other countries. She said since the city is not at the point where herd immunity can be reached through vaccinations, she and other city officials are encouraging those who haven’t been vaccinated to do so.