ctnewsjunkie file photo
Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — When schools across Connecticut reopen in the fall all students and adults will be required to wear masks, will be encouraged to eat lunch in their classrooms or outside, and follow strict safety measures and social distancing.

Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said they are encouraging schools to bring back all students to the schools in the fall.

“We are proposing that districts plan to have all students back to school every day,” Cardona said during a call with reporters.

There is no guidance regarding class size. Cardona said they are looking to make sure students, especially in grades K-8, that they stay with their classmates and teachers and don’t change classrooms or move throughout the building.

“We don’t have strict numbers on class size,” Cardona said.

Connecticut’s two teacher unions said the state needs to offer more specifics.

“The new plan raises many concerns and leaves dozens of unanswered questions regarding how schools will operate in a COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) world. Simply directing district officials to follow generic CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommendations, without customizing requirements for the realities of our school settings, is insufficient for a safe statewide reopening,” CEA President Jeff Leake and AFT-CT Vice President Mary Yordon said in a statement.

Leake and Yordon said educators want smaller class sizes, routine COVID testing, and health monitoring of all students.

Andrew Feinstein, an education lawyer, said he’s astonished at the decision to allow for full capacity buses and expecting kids to comply with mask regimes. He said it’s “an incredibly risky strategy.”

He said he’s concerned that it’s not going to be safe to return to school under this guidance.

Click here for the state’s presentation.

At the high school level and they’re looking to districts to maybe implement block scheduling when possible to limit the amount of movement they have to do within a building.

“It could be teachers going into the classrooms and students are stationary,” Cardona said.

The state is also asking districts to come up with alternate plans that would be employed if there was a sharp increase in infections in Connecticut that would require students to be home. Cardona said it will be based on community spread and they are working with the Department of Public Health to come up with those metrics.

The alternative plans may include having some students attend school, while others could be learning remotely.

When they’re attending school state officials said they are going to make sure students K-8 will remain with their own classes, which will limit the number of students and teachers they have contact with on a daily basis.

There won’t be any COVID-19 testing or temperature checks required for students or staff to return to school.

Busing will also continue.

Cardona said transportation will continue with heightened safety measures like face coverings, but it will be “close to normal ridership.” They will not require empty seats on buses, but they will require more frequent cleaning.

West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said he is excited about the plan outlined by Cardona.

The impact on transportation, in particular, is a relief for Moore. “We financially couldn’t operate our buses under the parameters previously being discussed. With masks, this will allow us to.”

West Hartford has ordered red and blue masks for Conard and Hall High Schools, as well as pediatric masks for the younger students, and masks with clear panels covering the mouth so that hearing impaired students and teachers will be able to read lips.

“We’ve invested heavily in masks,” Moore said.

School districts have been spending a lot of money on PPE and cleaning products even though they aren’t in the school building.
A joint report from the School Superintendents Association and the Association of School Business Officials International schools that in some cases schools districts can expect to spend an additional $490 per student to cover the costs of everything from cleaning supplies, PPE and hand sanitizer. That means it would cost a school district with 3,700 students a total of $1.8 million per school year.

The state has received $111 million in federal coronavirus aid for the state’s school districts, and there’s a focus on redirecting some funding to online learning where it’s needed. An estimated $99.9 million of the $111 million will be distributed to local school districts based on the proportion of Title I funding they received for fiscal year 2020.

The state is encouraging school districts to apply through their towns for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to cover the cost of things like PPE purchases.

Cardona said they are asking the districts to communicate with the state to let them know about if they are struggling to connect students and technology in case remote learning has to be deployed.

Lost Learning

Cardona said they have expended a lot of time and energy on figuring out how to help students who may have fallen behind the past four months that they’ve been unable to attend school.

“The expectation would really be to see where the students are and support them where they are,” Cardona said. “Many districts are looking at how to roll out the curriculum for the next year.”

Cardona said they are trying to create supports for districts and teachers to address the learning loss that likely happened during the stay-at-home order.

He said the “socio-emotional” experience of children during this time might also have been different and will need to be addressed upon the return to school.

Ronni Newton of We-Ha.com contributed to this report.