HARTFORD, CT — The state Department of Education released a 50-page document Monday detailing guidance for local school districts to use when schools reopen in the fall.
The document outlines how face coverings should be worn, how bathrooms should be cleaned and it begins to detail what will happen if families decided not to send their children to school.
“We know that one approach is not always best in all communities so we are listening to how districts consider this and trying to share best practices there to mitigate not only the distance learning and not only making sure that children can learn remotely, but also balancing the responsibilities of teachers who will also have students in front of them,” Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said Monday during a press briefing.
The state decided it was best to fully reopen school in the fall and the announcement has been controversial.
However, the document follows advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics which said it “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
“Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation,” the AAP added.
Gov. Ned Lamont said they took that advice and those assumptions into consideration when drafting the document.
“Any parent or any child who doesn’t feel comfortable going back into the classroom, we’re going to make accommodations for them to stay at home,” Lamont said Monday.
The guidance says the requirements that must be usually be met for a student to not participate in learning on school premises are being lifted for now. Parents and guardians may choose for students to temporarily engage in learning from home for medical or a variety of other reasons.
Cardona said remote learning will be an option for parents, but if a parent decides to start the school year with remote learning, they may change their minds later.
“We’ll open our door to students when parents are comfortable sending them to our schools,” Cardona said.
He said there is no time period attached to that guidance.
How well did remote learning go?
The SDE released a survey earlier this month which found: “Over 74 percent of all students (approximately 391,000 students) are fully participating in the distance learning offerings of the district. Another 14 percent (approximately 76,000 students) are partially participating, 8 percent are minimally participating (approximately 40,000 students), and 4 percent have not participated (approximately 21,000 students).”
The document didn’t define “participation” or “engagement.”
The document released Monday said that “During the remote learning period, nearly 75 percent of students participated fully though the quality of the learning experiences may have varied widely.”
It’s unclear how that information was obtained, but the guidance asks teachers to do an assessment of the educational losses students may have experienced.
“There is no single, “magic-bullet” assessment — whether screening or diagnostic or summative — that can meet the needs of all stakeholders and satisfy all purposes,” the document states.
Students will also be returning in the fall with some social-emotional baggage.
“Over 17 percent of students across the state experienced family, health, and trauma barriers to greater participation in remote learning,” the document released Monday said.
Connecticut Education Association (CEA) President Jeff Leake and AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel said the document “at first glance it appears incomplete at best. We have yet to find any reference to empowering local or regional districts with the resources clearly needed to implement the sort of in-person learning plan outlined.”
The two largest teacher unions in the state said the document “appears to pass the proverbial ‘buck’ for reopening buildings to local school superintendents and board members who already face difficult budgetary choices.”
The document released Monday also laid out more specifics about transportation and mask-wearing that were mentioned last week.
The mask policy asks schools to set clear guidelines for when they should be worn and it also asks them to “develop a consistent policy to address mask breaks throughout the day.” It also suggested staff working with children who can’t wear masks to be provided with “increased protective equipment, including but not limited to medical-grade masks and disposable gowns.”
The guidance said school buses will run at full capacity if state COVID-19 numbers continue to trend downward. The state says it will enforce mask wearing and cleaning, but social distancing will only be enforced if it finds a moderate spread of the virus.
It’s unclear if the cohorts of children in the classroom will be mixing with other children from other cohorts on the school buses.
As of Monday, Connecticut’s hospitalizations were continuing to decline and were below 100. The number of new cases only increased by 59, which is an infection rate of under 1%.