WESTBROOK — School is back in session under the hybrid model following a software glitch that in large part was responsible for delaying the first day of school.

Initially set for the week of Sept. 8, the first day of school was delayed to Sept. 14 when the district’s transportation software lost all of its routing data. It is now in working order.

“That was really the biggest issue,” Superintendent Peter Lancia said. “We had to re-create our database. But that is all fixed and set.”

Data ranging from student addresses to route maps had to be sorted and entered into the system again, he said.

A lack of substitute teachers also factored into the opening delay, Lancia said, but more were hired in recent days.

“We usually have between 30 to 40 subs a year on our roster, but this year we had 28 commit to return,” he said. “We have been doing some hiring. We are looking at building that sub pool, we are still building towards 40 subs, but we are in a good place.”

Lancia said he’s still looking for some “floater emergency on-call subs.”

“We can never have enough subs, to be honest. With the size of our staff we need a good solid number of people to cover for illness,” he said.

Although air quality was not a reason for the postponement, during the opening delay a number of new air purifiers as well as additional “barriers,” in high traffic areas in the schools were installed in some schools, Lancia said.

“I don’t know the exact number of air purifiers, but some were installed at Canal, the high school, central office,” he said. “There is some new protocol in place, so all of our air handling systems are running (constantly) bringing fresh air always. Typically we run them 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.”

The schools are working with City Health Officer and Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte on plans for the Fire Department to conduct regular COVID-19 tests.

“We’ve been working hand in glove with the superintendent, nurses and all schools in an effort to be proactive in COVID-19, specifically offering testing to teachers and other faculty,” Turcotte said. “We are not only doing testing one time, we are doing that testing every few weeks. We want to catch things before they become something more disastrous.”

Turcotte said students will be tested for COVID-19 as needed.

“It provides peace of mind to faculty and for students and their parents. In the event that a student has symptoms we can test them immediately and those specimens will get sent to the lab,” Turcotte said.

“Any time there are three or more cases, it’s an outbreak, and the CDC will play more of an active role in it,” he said. 

With school in session, Lancia said students and staff are less apprehensive than they were in the time leading up to their return.

“Kids and staff were happy to be back together. Nerves seemed to disappear once everyone arrived,” he said. “We are especially focusing on social skills as we return, (like) kindness, patience, compassion and support. We do this every year, but it is especially important this year.”

School Committee Chairman Noreen Poitras hasn’t visited the schools because of the no visitor policy in place during the pandemic, but she said she is keeping in touch with parents to hear their feedback.

“I heard mostly positive stuff, how excited teachers were to have (the students) back, and in general how different everything is right now,” Poitras said. “Kids are missing friends who will attend on other days, but we are waiting to see how remote learning will work for them.”

 

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