Governor Lamont announced on Thursday that Connecticut schools will reopen in the fall with mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing and using cohorts as much as possible.
He said he wanted the school year to start as close to the normal time as possible, and have a five-day normal school day and week. He said that would also allow employers to plan workers schedules.
CT Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona said that while there is a health pandemic, there is also an “educational emergency.”
“We heard loud and clear that students wanted to get back to school,” he said, adding that they got input from thousands of residents students and received input and direction from health experts.
“We acknowledge and embrace the opportunity to bring students back but also support them as they deal with the trauma of separation, seclusion, loss and effects of racial tensions and ignorance that plague our country.Miguel Cardona,, CT Commissioner of Education
A guiding principles for reopening in the fall was to allow all students the opportunity to return to school full time starting in the school.
Cardona said an important consideration was the negative effects of students not being in school. “Students are less likely to be in a structured environment if they’re out (of school), but also the social, emotional well being of students when they’re not in school.”
Cardona said to promote social distancing in classrooms desks would be moved as far apart as possible.
“We should look at the corner of the classroom and spread it out, frequent hand washing when students are leaving or transitioning, or coming in from outside, or when they’re done eating, they should wash their hands,” he said,
Part of Connecticut’s plan is to require face coverings that cover the nose and mouth, for students and staff.
They will also promote enhanced cleaning and disinfecting measures.
For classrooms and buses, cohorting will be emphasized, and wherever possible grouping students by the same class or group, so each team functions independently from others as much as possible.
He said that is more possible in K-8 grades, and in high schools it might be possible to do 9th grade teams in high school. Since students change classes in high school, emphasis will be placed on social distancing and mask wearing.
In high school where cohorting is more of a challenge, Cardona noted high schools are bigger and have more open spaces. Also, he said high school students are more likely to be able to keep masks on regularly.
“We’re going to look at hallways, how we’re passing between classrooms, how we’re having students eat and in the first few months of school try to use outside spaces as much as possible with high school students,” he said.
In facilities there will be a review of building space and reconfiguring space, and using gymnasiums and auditoriums for maximizing social distancing.
He said districts should plan for buses to operate close to capacity with heightened health and safety protocols, including all students and drivers wear face covering.
If there is an increase in community spread, there will be an increase in social distancing requirements.
Beyond that, Cardona said, “Part of our plan in Connecticut is also to know when to ramp down, which means we reduce the number of students int he classroom, and ultimately, if data suggest, go back to a remote learning strategy.”
Cardona said districts should have alternative plans in the event of a potential uptick of community transmission of Covid-19, and reduce the percentage of students that are entering schools at any given time.
Also, if health data requires, schools should be prepared to return to an improved method of remote learning.
Lamont said that if someone becomes infected in a school setting, “Due to cohorting we’d know who had been in contact with that person, and we could quarantine that class for a period of time,” he said.
“We know wearing masks is difficult for young children, especially in the beginning. We have to work to give them the strategies to do it. Kids are resilient,” Cardona said.
Cardona said some districts are discussing installing a plexiglass barrier on their desk so that if the teacher is sitting and talking to students, they can do that behind the barrier without a mask.
“Obviously ‘mask breaks’ are going to be part of the vernacular for fall,” he said, adding that medically fragile students would be provided an exemption.
Cardona said it will be important to give people a sense of confidence about sending their children back to school, but acknowledged there may be parents reluctant to send their children back to school.
“If there are cases where parents choose not to send their children back to school, we need to be prepared in districts to provide a distance learning experience that keeps them engaged in learning,” Cardona said.
“For those parents who thought that distance learning worked great, and they want more time, we’ll find ways to accommodate them,” Lamont said. “I think the vast majority are going to say, ‘Let’s get back to school.'”
Schools that are more crowded can look at retrofitting cafeterias and gymnasiums and other open space for overflow classrooms.
Cardona said school in the fall will not be the same as it was before. “We know that getting back into the school house is not only good for students academic and social emotional well-being, but in many cases is the safest, most structured place that they have.”
Guidance for chorus instruction will be forthcoming with input from Dept of Public health and with input from music and chorus teachers.
More details on the plan for reopening schools in the fall will be communicated from the Lamont administration on Monday.
At the outset of the press conference, Lamont referred to a map of the US and states infection rates.
“Things have gotten worse in most of the country,” Lamont said, adding that was why he and Governor Cuomo of New York and Murphy of New Jersey imposed the 14 day quarantine for those travelers from those hot spot states.
“States on fire, in red, have had a better than 50% with an increase in cases in a week. Fortunately, Connecticut has had a 50% decrease in cases week to week, which has made an enormous difference.”
Later, asked by a reporter about CDC director’s Robert Redfield’s comment that he didn’t think there was clear evidence to support the public health value of requiring a quarantine for visitors from hot spot states, Lamont replied, “What, discouraging people from an area that has a 40% infection rate, usually asymptomatic, coming into our state? He doesn’t think that has great value?” Lamont said.
“He thought it had value when the shoe was on the other foot and Florida was quarantining Connecticut a few months ago when we had the on fire infection rate,” Lamont said. “Keep politics out of it.”