COVENTRY — As students continue their gradual reentry into Coventry’s school buildings, Assistant Supt. Don Cowart has said that adopting a phased reopening plan was “by far” the best thing the district could have done. 

“I know it’s slow, and I know there are some people in the community who really need their kids in school as soon as possible,” Cowart said last week of the plan, “but in terms of the functionality of a school, it was by far the best approach we could have taken.”

Children in grades three and four, who have been learning remotely since school began on Sept. 14, make up the latest group to return to the classroom, as all students except those whose families opted for distance learning returned Tuesday to a full, in-person model of learning.

“This is extremely challenging, how we’re reopening,” Supt. Craig Levis said during Thursday’s school committee meeting. “But it’s been a blessing to be able to walk around our schools and see students.”

School buildings statewide have sat empty since the governor announced in March that, due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools would need to transition to distance learning for the remainder of the year. 

Districts were later tasked with developing their own plans for bringing students back to school, ideally in person, following summer vacation. In Coventry, the plan that was developed after months of work involves staggering students’ return to the classroom based largely on grade level. 

Cowart said building administrators have appreciated being able to examine their protocols for things like arrival, dismissal and lunch periods without having to worry about a full student body. It’s allowed them to more easily recognize problems and adjust building-specific plans, he said. 

First to return for full, in-person learning were students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, special education programs and some Career and Technical programs. A week later, on Sept. 21, all first- and second graders returned for full in-person learning.

Following the return this week of third and fourth grade students, fifth graders next week will make a full return to the classroom, while sixth graders switch to a hybrid model that will have them alternating in-person and remote learning days. 

Finally, phase five will kick off the week of Oct. 13, with students in grades seven through 12 returning under a hybrid model. 

Mondays are distance learning days for every student in the district. 

“Very shortly, every student that chooses to come back will be in front of a teacher for at least… a couple of days a week,” Levis said. 

To accommodate the Oct. 14 administration of the SAT and PSAT, which Cowart said is being taken by hundreds of Coventry students, any student returning in the final reentry phase who isn’t taking the assessment will stick to distance learning on Oct. 13 and 14.  

“On the 14th, the kids who are taking the standardized test will come in for the standardized test,” Cowart said, “and we’ll start the hybrid rotation on the Thursday and the Friday.”

In a video message uploaded Monday to YouTube, Levis thanked students, staff and families for their support in ensuring the reopening goes as smoothly as possible.

“There will be challenges ahead — we’ll have students and staff that will be quarantined; we may have whole classes quarantined,” he said in the video. “There will be some hurdles that we’ll have to overcome, but we will overcome them.”

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