Milford students return to school starting Sept. 1

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 — City schools open their doors Wednesday, welcoming back students and staff to full day, in-school instruction five days a week - what seemed a distant memory since the onset of the pandemic.

School Superintendent Anna Cutaia held a back-to-school webinar for the 2021-22 school year to give parents and staff an update on school operations for the coming school year.

“We will continue to do that as long as we can,” Cutaia said of the full day in-school instruction five days a week.

“So we will start school five days a week, but we do have plans in the event that the health metrics force us to reconsider that,” she added. “In the event the health metrics turn, we will be immediately responsive to our students and staff member's needs.”

MPS decisions relating to daily school operations will continue to be made using the same set of five key factors they used last year: health metrics, social/emotional needs, academic priorities, availability of resources and human resources. Cutaia compared it to a puzzle and, each of the factors is dependent on one another to work.

“We will, as I mentioned in my letter, be mandating universal masking for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status, and that is for indoors,” she said. “We will not be using those for outdoors, and we will provide students and staff with mask breaks, as we did last year. We know those are vital for our young people.”

Cutaia added students will be able to use playground equipment this year, but they will be reducing the number of students who go out to recess at one time.

Social distancing this year will be a little bit different than before, Cutaia said. In the classroom, social distancing between a student and another student is 3 feet, but social distancing between a student and a teacher is still 6 feet.

“So our classrooms, the desks will be still spaced out, but not at 6 feet but at 3 feet apart,” she said. “Our buses will be zoned once again. We will zone the buses so that students are assigned to particular areas at the bus.”

Remote learning was a big part of the school year during 2020, but during 2021, it will not be the focus. However, she said schools will still offer it to students who are quarantining due to being exposed to COVID. The schools is handling students who are immunocompromised and require remote learning on a case-by-case scenario. Cutaia recommends parents of immunocompromised students reach out to their school's principal.

“When it comes to remote learning, the state has weighed in not allowing remote learning as a choice for attendance to school this year,” said Cutaia. “But we have written guidelines and protocols here in Milford Public Schools which allows remote learning, synchronously and asynchronous, for those students who are quarantined due to COVID.”

On Aug. 18, Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order requiring state employees, childcare and school staff to get vaccinated for COVID-19. The executive order requires that all Connecticut state employees and staff of all childcare facilities and PreK-12 schools school-wide must have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27.

“We are still waiting on council on that mandate and some guidance on how to roll that out and to whom that applies specifically, to what categories employees and are there any categories for exemption,” Cutaia said. “We actually have actually more questions than answers on vaccinations for staff members, but as soon as we get answers, we will be updating parents and staff members.”

When it comes to quarantining, Cutaia said those who are not fully vaccinated and have had exposure to an infected individual, will be required to quarantine per the local health department guidelines. Those who are fully vaccinated and have been exposed to an infected individual, are not required to quarantine provided they do not have symptoms. However, they should obtain a COVID-19 PCR test three to five days after exposure, and they are encouraged to monitor their symptoms for 14 days. If they are vaccinated and have been exposed to COVID-19 but are not symptomatic, they are not required to quarantine.

“We, as educators, don’t have the authority to quarantine ... those directives would come directly from our health department,” Cutaia said. “We enforce and implement quarantine to best we can by communicating to families and students the need to quarantine and support students through that process.”

She added parents will be notified the same as last year if their child has been exposed to COVID-19 in school.

Cutaia said the school district is functioning under Lamont’s executive order with many of the plans they have for the 2021-22 school year.

“I will underscore the fact that these plans are in place through at least Sept. 30, 2021,” Cutaia said. “As we have over the last 20 months, we plan to revisit our decisions based on new information if necessary.”