Reopen Connecticut: State plans for full-time, in-school education in the fall

CONNECTICUT (WABC) -- Connecticut officials unveiled Thursday their plan for full-time in-school education to resume in the fall.

Governor Ned Lamont and Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona announced details of the framework to allow all students in all school districts statewide the opportunity to have access to instruction at the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year, as long as public health data continues to support the model.

They said that while Connecticut has determined reopening schools for in-person instruction can be achieved based upon the state's successful COVID-19 containment efforts, the model will be supported with more intensive mitigation strategies and specific monitoring, containment, and class cancellation plans.

"While we've made good strides to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in Connecticut, the virus hasn't gone away and we need to do what we can to keep students and staff safe while also doing our best to provide our young people with access to an education that prepares them for the future," Lamont said. "Working with public health and medical experts, and with the support of our educators, we are preparing a number of steps that protect the health and safety of everyone who makes contact with our school system."

In assessing the approach to a required operating model, the Connecticut State Department of Education considered input from school representatives, educators, families, students, educational stakeholders, advocacy organizations, and union representatives.

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The department conducted a review of nationally and globally published school reopening plans. The importance of access to in-person schooling rose as a priority related to educational opportunities, safety, well-being, and social-emotional learning.

"This pandemic represents more than a virus, it represents an historic disruption to our school communities and created barriers to how we best deliver academic and non-academic supports in a way that is accessible, equitable, and meaningful," Cardona said. "Addressing the educational setbacks and the social-emotional toll caused by COVID-19 is best addressed by maximizing in-person instructional time. In developing this plan, we worked in close consultation with public health officials to prioritize the safety of our school communities and, just as intensively, engaged students, parents, and educators for their critical input. We stand with our districts, educators and families as we commit to making 2020-21 a year devoted to creativity, innovation, courage, and reimagining education together."

In addition to the framework, the Department of Education plans to release a more detailed guidance document next week that will provide more comprehensive information for school districts.

Framework for Connecticut Schools During the 2020-21 Academic Year

Guiding Principles

As Connecticut schools plan to reopen, the guidance and considerations outlined in this framework are grounded in six guiding principles:
--Safeguarding the health and safety of students and staff
--Allowing all students the opportunity to return into the classrooms full time starting in the fall
--Monitoring the school populations and, when necessary, potentially cancelling classes in the future to appropriately contain COVID-19 spread
--Emphasizing equity, access, and support to the students and communities who are emerging from this historic disruption
--Developing strong two-way communication with partners such as families, educators and staff
--Factoring into decisions about reopening the challenges to the physical safety and social-emotional well-being of our students when they are not in school

These guiding principles require all districts to develop their plans with a certain level of consistency, however, they retain wide discretion in implementing approaches to reopening given unique local considerations. School districts must balance their planning with contingency plans to provide robust, blended learning or remote learning for all grades in the event that a school, district, or region has to cancel or limit in-person classes due to health precautions.

Main Operational Considerations

Cohorting

Districts should emphasize grouping students by the same class/group of students and teacher (into a cohort) so each team functions independently as much as possible. Consider this methodology by grade levels.

Placing students in cohorts is strongly encouraged for grades K-8, and encouraged where feasible for grades 9-12.

Social Distancing and Facilities

Review building space and reconfigure available classroom space, such as gymnasiums and auditoriums, to maximize social distancing, consistent with public health guidelines in place at that time.

Transportation

Districts should plan for buses to operate close to capacity with heightened health and safety protocols, including requiring all students and operators wear face coverings.

Transportation operators will need to activate increased social distancing protocols based upon community spread.

Face Coverings

All staff and students will be expected to wear a protective face covering or face mask that completely covers the nose and mouth when inside the school building, except for certain exceptions including when teachers are providing instruction.

Ensuring Equity and Access

Equitable access to education is a top priority that supports a full-time in-school model by mitigating any barriers to education or opportunity gaps that increased during the pandemic. Efforts to support equity, close the opportunity gap, and provide a wide range of support for students in the state is best achieved with in-person schooling opportunities for all ages.

Districts should identify gaps and develop action plans for reopening that specifically address inclusion, equity, and access for all learners with strategies and clearly defined action steps.

Monitoring, Containment, and Class Cancellations Plan

Develop robust monitoring and containment protocols, and class cancellation plans, in the event there are public health indicators that may require temporary closure of the building, such as evidence of community transmission in the school.

If public health data requires partial reopening, or if schools containment efforts require partial closure, LEAS must prioritize the return of vulnerable learner groups, with specific protocols to increase the in-school population over time until full in person instruction is achieved.

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