The EHPS district is one of the few to be providing a full in-person education to their students. Community members have raised concerns since the decision was made to return to school in September, and are currently still being voiced. EHHS principal, Vincent DeNuzzo, and EHPS superintendent, Mrs. Erica Forti, provide an inside perspective of how they are making their decisions and maintaining a healthy and safe environment in their schools.
On Tuesday, Sept. 8, EHPS returned back to school after closing in early March. There were, and continue to be, many concerns on how safe it actually is to be in school. Principal DeNuzzo explains, “When the state issued their guidance, and talked about the things you had to do to open school, we embraced it because we believe school should operate with students in it, alongside the mindfulness of the things that we have to do; sanitation, masks, hallway traffic control. We certainly took all of the recommendations and the guidance that the state issued and tried to implement it to the best of our abilities so that we could safely open schools.” On the EHPS website, there is a published side by side look into the state's recommendations and how our school plans on implementing them. Some requirements our school has fulfilled are grouping students by grade for more efficient contact tracing, minimizing bus capacity, supplying each classroom with a personal protection equipment kit, preparing a designated room for temporary quarantining, maximizing the outside air percentage coming into the school, making sure all students are up to date on immunizations, training staff members on COVID symptoms and keeping cleaning logs.
Superintendent Forti reiterates that schools would not have reopened if doing so safely was not possible. A huge part of deciding whether or not to open schools and how to do so came from summer programs. The state encouraged and assisted East Haven to run programs at Deer Run Elementary School and Overbrook Early Learning Center. Mrs. Forti says, “There were a lot of great ideas and strategies that came out of our experience from these programs, and a lot of the great ideas came from the staff while they were working in the programs.” How to effectively sanitize school equipment and screening students temperatures are a couple things that were taken from the programs and implemented into schools. They also observed during the beginning of the summer program that fevers were more prominent in the afternoon, even though they were taking temperatures at the beginning of the day. This information was used in reopening schools because now students' temperatures are taken during lunch instead of as they enter school. Every school also has a designated custodial staff who regularly sanitize every highly-touched surface, and each school gets a weekly deep clean.
Mrs. Forti and her colleagues not only make decisions based on what they see in schools and how well their strategies are working, but they communicate almost daily with the East Shore Health Department, who have weekly meetings with the CT Department of Public Health. ESHD provides information to not only EHPS, but Branford and North Branford school districts also. During their nearly daily meetings, Mrs. Forti and the ESHD look at the data of positive cases. Superintendent Forti acknowledges the concerns of the East Haven community that exposure to COVID-19 can be possible in schools, but says, “what we are seeing is that that's not really the case. The transmission that we are seeing is from the community and not between kids in school” and that the chances of exposure through aerosols has been proven to be more common than that of transmission through touch, emphasizing the importance of facial masks. Mrs. Forti is certain that this data shows that the virus is not being spread in school because of the key mitigation strategies that the EHPS Board of Education and administration have been enforcing such as sanitizing, social distancing, and most importantly, mask wearing
The Board of Education is also very involved in what safety precautions we take and what type of schooling we participate in. On Nov. 11, 2020, a BOE meeting was held via Google Meet. One member mentioned having half days on Fridays. They did not choose to pursue it then, but they plan to proceed with the conversation during their next meeting on Dec. 8, 2020. Another thing mentioned over the duration of their meeting was cleaning of the vents in all schools. The BOE is remaining diligent in keeping the vents clean to ensure the air flowing into and within the school is clean.
Although the BOE, Mrs. Forti, and EHPS administration work hard daily to keep the schools safe for both students and staff, they understand that there are circumstances that require a student to learn remotely and they continue to work hard and make accommodations for those students while still providing a quality education. Mrs. Forti says, “What I am really trying to do here is trying to give parents and families choice.” She goes on to say that they are doing their best to provide a safe environment by following every guideline given to them, and more, for students that want and even possibly need to learn in-person, while still having the option of learning from home. She feels it is important to keep our schools open because if they close, she no longer can give families an option to proceed in whichever learning environment is most suitable for them.
We continue to follow up on safety measures and how Principal DeNuzzo, superintendent Forti, and the BOE plan to keep us safe. Remember to wear your mask, wash your hands, social distance, and use sanitizer with at least 70% alcohol. To stay informed and up to date, it is important you watch the BOE meetings, stay current with state meetings and publications, and communicate with members in the community.