HARTFORD, CT – The state Department of Education on Monday released an updated document on preparations for COVID-19 that includes a section on preparing for possible school closures.
The relevant section of the document says that while school closures in Connecticut have not been directed by federal or state officials, such decisions won’t be made “in a silo.” Absent any emergency declaration by the Lamont administration or federal government, school closures are local decisions to be made by school districts in coordination with, “and at the direction of” local health officials, and in consultation with the state departments of Public Health and Education.
As of 9:30 p.m. Sunday, March 8, the state had tested 47 residents for COVID-19, which is short for Coronavirus Disease 2019, with one person testing positive for the virus. The individual is a Wilton resident who had recently returned from a trip to California, and has been hospitalized in Danbury.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 164 people have tested positive for the virus in 19 states with 11 deaths. Investigators are still trying to find the source of the virus for 110 of the 164, while 36 were travel-related and 18 were infected person-to-person in the U.S.
The CDC’s testing protocol is in use in 48 states including Connecticut. States and territories still working toward getting their testing apparatus up and running include Maine, West Virginia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. States and territories without operational testing labs are sending samples for testing directly to the CDC in Atlanta.
In the event that Connecticut schools are closed based on any emergency circumstances, the document says state law allows the state Board of Education to authorize a shorter school year with less than the statutorily required 180 school days.
Josh Geballe, commissioner of the state Department of Administrative Services, said the consequences and the costs of closing a school are significant, so closing a school would be a “last resort.”
He said that is the reason they are taking other actions now on large gatherings and limited out-of-state travel.
If a school district exhausts all other options to make up lost school days, the district can request authorization from the state Board of Education to waive the 180-day requirement.
The guidance document also covers “continuity of education” in a section on distance learning procedures.
“School closure does not have to mean a total loss of instruction/learning time,” the Education Department wrote. “Therefore, the CSDE recommends that districts plan now to have some high quality, distance-learning opportunities that could be employed in the event of a school closure due to COVID-19.”
Districts are instructed to consider education policy issues, legal input, special education considerations, and to “use an equity lens” when making their plans.
“Distance learning may be differentiated depending on student access to technology or need for special resources, and teams should consider accommodations and other accessible materials,” the document says.
Local school officials have already begun contingency planning.
Chris Leone, Superintendent of Schools for Litchfield and Region 6, emailed parents on Friday, March 6, to update them on the district’s plans for coronavirus and to ask them to fill out a “Device and Wifi Access Survey.”
“I have met with the administrative team and we are finalizing contingency plans should the district ever face a prolonged closure,” Leone wrote. “One key part of the planning is providing students and families with educational work to support learning at home. This support will include paper assignments and also access to online learning.”
Leone wrote that the information requested in the survey “will help finalize plans for building and grade-specific support.”