NEW MILFORD — Schools will be reopening later and under the hybrid model this academic year, interim superintendent Paul Smotas has announced.

Students will now return to school on Sept. 8 and teachers will return on Aug. 28, giving teachers a week of training and professional development before class is in session. This means the last day of school is now expected to be June 18.

The rest of the scheduled holidays and parent teacher conference dates remain the same on the calendar.

The school board unanimously approved the decision last week, though many acknowledged it comes with hardships for families when students aren’t physically in school.

“I’m glad we’re starting slowly,” said Tammy McInerney, a school board member.

Smotas said the hybrid plan best addresses the concerns raised by parents and the community, as well as allows the school to open safely for students and staff.

School officials had previously asked the state if the high school could open using the hybrid model and the other schools using full in-person classes. They have continuously said hybrid would be the ideal model though for everyone if the state would allow, because it provided in-person instruction while also making it easier to keep distances in the classrooms and on buses.

Under the hybrid model, half of the student population will attend school in person on Monday and Tuesday, everyone would remote learn on Wednesday, and the other half of students will attend on Thursday and Friday.

Smotas said the details of this plan and what happens on Wednesday could change as directors, administrators and union leaders review and revise it over the next two weeks. He is also meeting with a number of stakeholders — including the mayor and police chief — to go over traffic precautions.

“I’m assuming a lot more parents are going to drive their kids to school than ever did before,” he said.

Some of the outstanding items for the plan are how activities such as music will be handled, and what health metrics will be used to determine when to switch to either fully remote or fully in-person learning.

Officials are also determining which students might need to be in the school more than two days a week, such as English as a second language students or those with high needs.

“I feel confident that, given the next four weeks, we will be able to refine, revise and bring this plan to fruition for the opening of school on Sept. 8,” Smotas said.

Smotas plans to have virtual meetings over Zoom the week of Aug. 24, if not sooner, focusing on different areas of the plan, such as food services, special education, facilities, instruction, transportation, activities, staffing needs and nursing. People will also be able to ask questions during these sessions.

Some school board members said they appreciated the work Smotas and others were putting into the plan, but worried Aug. 24 might not give parents enough time to make decisions about what to do about their children’s schooling.

Smotas said he will make the meetings earlier if he can, but wants to see how other districts are handling their reopenings.

Starting after Labor Day gives New Milford more time and information, he said, adding about 90 percent of the superintendents he’s spoken with are also doing hybrid first.

“I’m not rushing this,” he said. “This is the most important decision I’ve ever made in my life as a superintendent and I’ve been in the state a long, long time.”

kkoerting@newstimes.com