Contact tracing on Milford buses 'biggest challenge to date,' superintendent says

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 — Implementing COVID strategies on buses — with some 4,000 students transported to and from school each day — remains a challenge, according to school Superintendent Anna Cutaia.

Cutaia, during her back-to-school update to the Board of Education Monday, said the school district and Durham have maintained the same COVID-19 protocols as last year. Requirements call for students and drivers to wear a mask, and students are assigned zones in buses.

“We transport right now a little more than 4,000 students,” Cutaia said. “That equals about 63 buses and vans. There are about 146 bus runs and more than 1,000 bus stops.

“Our busing has been the most challenging when it comes to implementing mitigating strategies,” Cutaia added. “Back to the point where our elementary schools are considering assigned seats on the bus, most of our close contacts, a very big percentage, is coming from the buses, and that has posed a challenge.”

Adding that, when they cannot pinpoint who the close contacts are, drivers will take out large portions of the bus to be on the side of caution.

“So contact tracing is happening on buses, but that is our biggest challenge to date,” she said.

Currently, bus drivers are taking attendance when students get on the bus, but a new system and software was purchased to record attendance digitally.

“Students will be given an ID card so they can scan on the bus, and we expect to have the technology installed over the next month,” Cutaia said.

When it comes to facilities and maintenance, Cutaia said the district completed several projects that are not COVID-19 specific - including installation of window shades, exterior doors, playground mulching and parking marking.

“The greatest excitement in the area of furniture and fixtures over the summer was the ordering, attainment and assembly of 1,000 student desks,” Cutaia said. “I believe many of us were sweating the nights of Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 30 and 31, because the desks came all the way from Georgia, and when they got here, we realized how much assembly it took to put them together.

“We needed 1,000 student desks because we are socially distancing lunch and social distance lunch requires 6 feet,” she added. “So we are putting desks in cafeterias, auditoriums, gymnasiums and wherever we could put them.”

Cutaia also updated the board of impacts of the remnants of Hurricane Ida on school buildings.

“We did sustain damage at Harborside ... the basement flooded, and we lost classrooms and equipment down in the basement, primarily impacting art, tech-ed, physical fitness room,” Cutaia said, adding that Harborside was closed for one day — the second day of school — for necessary work to eliminate the problems.

“We sustained damage at Orange Avenue in the boiler room. At West Shore, we sustained damage in the science lab and one other classroom in the school, and at Foran, there was damage in the gymnasium,” Cutaia added. “All those are being attended to.”