Stamford officials will ‘work through any issues’ if schools closed till fall
STAMFORD — Stamford teachers and students have had to quickly adapt to online education due to the new coronavirus, and it’s likely they’ll have to get used to it.
On Tuesday, Gov. Ned Lamont said schools across the state would likely remain closed until the fall in a radio interview. The day before, he had mentioned April 20 as the earliest schools could re-open, but on Tuesday he referred to that date as “the minimum.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Stamford schools to move to online education for teachers and students, mirroring what is happening across the state and country.
Superintendent Tamu Lucero is overseeing the district during an unprecedented time, in which teachers and students have had to adapt to a “distance-learning” approach.
So far, she’s happy with the returns.
“I believe we have gotten off to a great start,” she said. “I don’t doubt that we are going to continue to get better.”
She said feedback from families so far has been positive.
“And all of them are saying that we’re getting better,” she said.
Still, nothing is written in stone, even if the governor is skeptical schools will restart before graduation day.
“We always like to have things official before we start to make official plans,” Lucero said.
Max Reiss, spokesperson for Lamont, said the governor sees the coronavirus pandemic lasting longer than originally expected.
“The goal is to have frank discussions with superintendents and the education community as this situation unfolds,” he said.
Lamont’s comment isn’t an official ruling, but he’s made clearer in recent days that schools should be prepared for long-term closures, far beyond the initial two-week shutdown he ordered on March 15 and likely past the current April 20 target date.
“We’re saying, look, right now it’s going to be April 20 but you’ve got to be ready for the reality that it’s going to be closed for the foreseeable future,” Reiss said. “What the governor is saying is that school systems across the state need to be prepared to not return this year.”
“We’re hoping for the best, but we’re planning, if the entire school year has to be called off as a result of this, we’re prepared to do that if it’s going to mean increasing safety and flattening the curve,” Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said.
In recent guidance on school closures, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said data indicate that closures of two to four weeks likely do not affect the spread of COVID-19, but that “there may be some impact of much longer closures” of eight to 20 weeks. Handwashing and home isolation have more impact, the CDC said, and countries that have closed school haven’t had more success reducing spread than places that have.
“While we have data that can contribute to decisions about when to dismiss schools, there is almost no available data on the right time to re-start schools,” the CDC said. “We would advise to plan for a length of time and then evaluate based on continued community spread.”
For school districts, what was first seen as a temporary educational fix could become the norm for the foreseeable future. For Lucero, that just means doing much of the same.
“We work together to try to figure things out and try to work through any issues that might come up,” she said, referring to the district’s plan if schools remain shuttered until the fall. “I’ve been very proud of what we have accomplished so far.”
Andy George, president of the Stamford Board of Education, praised the school district’s response to the spread of the virus.
“From a standpoint of preparedness, I think we jumped on it pretty quickly, and so far, quite successfully,” he said. “Overall, there’s a sense that it’s working pretty well.”
Still, there is a concern that if students are out of school for the rest of the spring, the state’s achievement gap could be widened, said Don Williams, Executive Director of the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.
“Students who need help the most are the least likely to get that during a period like this,” he said. “Everyone is going to do the best they can, given the distance-learning limitations, but that’s an area where, come the fall, come the resumption of a normal school day, we’ll have to address those issues.”
The real challenge for the rest of the school year will be providing students the information they should learn in a normal semester, “with the information that they should learn in the time period,” Williams said. And while educators are focused on the immediate issues, long-term ramifications are possible: “I think we will find that, come fall, some form of remediation and catch up during the regular school day and regular school year will be necessary,” he said.
There has been at least one advantage to having schools free of teachers and students in Stamford.
Namely, schools dealing with longstanding mold issues, such as Toquam Magnet Elementary School, are being worked on during the distance-learning period. And if the status quo holds until the fall, the school district will have roughly six months to continue the improvements before classroom teaching resumes.