Gov. Ned Lamont and Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona today announced details of the framework to allow “all students–in all [public] school districts statewide–the opportunity to have access to in-school, full-time instruction at the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year, as long as public health data continues to support this model.”
A return to school, however, will include strict safety measures, including mandatory wearing of mask and face coverings and more thorough cleaning throughout the day. To accommodate social distancing, schools will likely need to add buses or scheduled bus runs and hire additional teachers as students are split into more classes with smaller class sizes.
Districts will also need to review building space and reconfigure available spaces–including hallways, gymnasiums, and auditoriums–into classroom space, in order to maximize social distancing, consistent with public health guidelines in place at that time. Administrators will also be encouraged to consider alternative plans for scheduling, including staggered dismissal times or limiting lunchtime eating to classrooms or outside rather than in a large lunchroom.
The plan does not contain elements of contact tracing or requirements for testing, nor does it include health assessments or temperature checks.
Districts will also be required to plan for the possibility of distance learning as a fall-back option should infection rates rise significantly.
Wilton Superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith has been waiting for the last month to hear what the state’s intention was, and said he’s relieved to finally have something more definitive from the state, and get to work.
“Obviously we have a ton of planning to do, but now at least we have a direction. First and foremost, we’re certainly delighted to have the opportunity to have all of our kids come back. That being said, ensuring social distancing is going to be a challenge for us,” Smith said.
It’s too preliminary to know what exact costs will be for the district but according to Smith the State Department of Education looked at different models and estimated an additional $2 million per district. “But I think that was a different model that was not bringing all kids back, so [what’s being proposed now] is, of all of the various scenarios that were played at the state level, was probably the most cost-effective. It’ll still be expensive, of course,” he said.
The district’s summer assignment will be now to get into the weeds and look at the specific costs for things like PPE for staff and students, physical barriers, plexiglass, shields, transportation and more. Along with financial planning, officials will have to look at schedules and transitioning to the new online learning management system. And, said Smith, there are the unknowns:
“What if we have a resurgence, what if we have to hire lots of substitutes, the list goes on and on. Somewhere, mid-summer, we’ll have a clear idea of what those costs are going to be,” he added.
The press release credits “the state’s successful COVID-19 containment efforts” as the basis for officials determining that the state can reopen schools for in-person instruction, it will depend on “more intensive mitigation strategies and specific monitoring, containment, and class cancellation plans.”
“While we’ve made good strides to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in Connecticut, the virus hasn’t gone away and we need to do what we can to keep students and staff safe while also doing our best to provide our young people with access to an education that prepares them for the future,” Lamont said. “Working with public health and medical experts, and with the support of our educators, we are preparing a number of steps that protect the health and safety of everyone who makes contact with our school system.”
The release notes that the CT State Department of Education considered input from In assessing the approach to a required operating model, the Connecticut State Department of Education (SDE) considered input from school representatives, educators, families, students, educational stakeholders, advocacy organizations, and union representatives. The department conducted a review of nationally and globally published school reopening plans. The importance of access to in-person schooling rose as a priority related to educational opportunities, safety, wellbeing, and social-emotional learning.
“This pandemic represents more than a virus, it represents an historic disruption to our school communities and created barriers to how we best deliver academic and non-academic supports in a way that is accessible, equitable, and meaningful,” Commissioner Cardona said. “Addressing the educational setbacks and the social-emotional toll caused by COVID-19 is best addressed by maximizing in-person instructional time. In developing this plan, we worked in close consultation with public health officials to prioritize the safety of our school communities and, just as intensively, engaged students, parents, and educators for their critical input. We stand with our districts, educators and families as we commit to making 2020-21 a year devoted to creativity, innovation, courage, and reimagining education together.”
In addition to the framework released today, SDE plans to release a more detailed guidance document next week that will provide more comprehensive information for school districts.