School districts to have more say in reopening
While the governor and commissioner of education are still pushing for a full, in-person reopening of school come fall, they said they will leave that decision up to local school districts.
“It may be that some districts at the high school level and maybe the middle school level begin with the hybrid and then work toward the goal of (a full reopening,)” Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona said Monday.
School districts around the state, on Friday, submitted reopening plans to the state Department of Education based on three scenarios: full reopening, a hybrid model that included both in- and out-of-school learning and complete remote learning. A department team is now reviewing them, Cardona said.
The in-person model, which is contingent on the state continuing to show a declining COVID-19 infection rate, relies largely on everyone wearing masks and most students sticking together with the same class or group as much as possible throughout the school day.
Cardona called the plans fluid documents and a final call won’t be made until sometime in August.
While the state is also allowing parents to keep their children home for remote learning if they choose, some 67 percent of parents say they intend to send their kids back in the fall and a surprising 81 percent of teachers plan to be there too, according to a preliminary reopening survey released Monday by the state.
A heavy price tag was also put on the effort. Connecticut school superintendents estimate returning to school in the fall is going to cost them $400 million or more above their 2020-21 budgets. About half of the added cost is for extra personnel and half for non-personnel costs such as building needs, added technology and transportation.
The results come from 192 school districts, representing the lion’s share of the state’s 530,000 students. Gov. Ned Lamont referenced some of the data when he held a coronavirus briefing on Monday.
Students, Lamont said, miss their friends and need the socialization that school offers.
The staff results, he added, surprised him given the concerns raised by the state’s largest teacher unions over a full in-school return in the fall.
On Thursday, teachers, including some from Bridgeport, plan to caravan up to Hartford in a bid to put the brakes on a full reopening.
The Connecticut Education Association wants a slower reopening that is fully funded by the state and federal government.
“We’ll see how that sorts out over the course of the next few weeks,” Lamont said. “The state is there to backstop every single one of our school districts when it comes to public health and public safety.”
New Canaan Schools Superintendent Bryan Luizzi, brought on by the governor during his Monday briefing, said his district will keep elementary and middle school students together but have not yet figured out how to do that effectively at the high school level.
“We’re figuring out how can we try to stay at a reasonable distance from each other ... and yet still have interactive activities,” Luizzi said. Schools these days, he added, are supposed to be active and engaging learning environments, regardless of modalities and furniture setups.
Many districts reported uncertainty around their submitted survey numbers and in many cases, parents who filled them out are still unsure if their July answers will hold into September, data released by the state suggests.
The number of parents choosing in-person learning was lowest in high-needs districts like Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford, according to the survey narrative.
The surveys reveal that many districts have classrooms too small to accommodate a class where students are appropriately spread apart if everyone shows up to school. Gyms and cafeterias can’t be used as auxiliary classes in many cases, because that is where schools are storing excess classroom desks, chairs and book cases.
Some school officials are looking into renting tents for outdoor classroom spaces.
Others are dealing with the logistics of teaching children both in a classroom or at home watching a live-stream video of the class.
“There is a lot of work to be done around that,” Luizzi said.
There will be training, for both teachers and students.
“These are immense challenges,” Luizzi said. “But we are single-mindedly focused on doing the right thing for our kids.”