The Open Choice program, which allows students from urban school districts to attend public schools in nearby towns, will continue as normal this fall despite the pandemic.
As districts across the state have raised concerns about busing, cohorting students and access to digital learning, districts participating in Open Choice are determined to make it happen by following all guidelines for each district that they partner with.
“If districts are trying to cohort kids in certain ways, we will rely on them to talk to us,” said Dr. Mark Ribbens, director of the Bridgeport area open choice. “If a district doesn’t want certain kids together on a bus for example we will do what we can to make that happen.”
Students in the Greater Hartford area will continue to be bussed to surrounding districts. While some districts are encouraging students to be driven to school, busing will continue to be an option for students who are part of the Capitol Educational Regional Council. In the past CREC has provided bus monitors and will continue to do so to make sure that all students are wearing a mask and social distancing.
“We will abide by the guidelines for transportation,” said Greg Florio, executive director of CREC. “Load from the back, exit from the front. Require masks and monitor. The capacity of the bus will depend on how many students are enrolled.”
Florio said that he is still in the process of putting the routes together based on enrollment numbers. He doesn’t know yet whether they will need additional buses to keep capacity down.
Other concerns are related to the various models of education each district selected. Gov. Ned Lamont left it up to the superintendents to decide what sort of reopening model would work best for their districts. This means that students will be going to school in-person sometimes only two times a week. This will be something that Florio said CREC will have to coordinate in terms of busing and with parents.
If one area of the state experiences a spike and it would no longer be safe to bus children to or from that school, Florio said they would defer to the districts for guidance.
In Ellington, Superintendent Scott Nicols recognized the need for technology support for his 100 students from Hartford. On days when they are not attending school in person, Nichols said that he has designated a particular technology point person to help the Open Choice population with their remote learning.
“If they are having technical support with any of the distance learning, any of the signing up for the information system — we have a person for technology to assist them that they can contact immediately,” Nicols said.
As for school lunches, districts are trying to work out a way for students living in Hartford to be able to get lunch from Hartford on the days they are doing school from home.
An online-only start to the school year would make things difficult for some students.
Superintendents are hopeful that they can make it through at least a few weeks in a hybrid model so that kids and teachers can form relationships.
“I would love for us to have time with the kids, get them acclimated and get friendships and relationships forged so if we have to go online, at least they have had that opportunity,” Newington Superintendent Maureen Brummett said. “For students who are new to us and are starting out fully online, that will be a bit more challenging.”