CONNECTICUT — The Connecticut State Department of Education has released a list of requirements with which local educational agencies need to comply in order to reopen in the fall.
The state expects that their "preliminary guidance" will likely evolve, and also be freely adapted to circumstances unique to each school district. The state is encouraging school boards to develop local teams and secure input from all members of the community in advance of the reopening.
Nevertheless, schools have until July 24 to submit a plan to the CSDE addressing the requirements as detailed in the new document. The CDSE won't be approving them, per se, but the schools' battle plans "will be retained and best practices communicated and will allow CSDE to provide technical support" the districts.
"We realize that going back to school will not look exactly the same in every schoolhouse across the state," Commissioner of Education Miguel A. Cardona wrote in his preface. "Districts will be operating within their community and school buildings' unique circumstances."
A key requirement is the ability to pivot between in-person schooling and remote learning. The state intends for the local districts to be moving full speed ahead for a fall reopening, but be fully prepared to change gears for a partial reopening if public health concerns dictate.
Also, students who, "based upon individual considerations," don't want to attend school in person, won't have to. The state is requiring schools to accommodate a distance learning model for any student who desires it. Schools must provide meals to all students, whether they are participating in-school or remotely.
The students who do attend the schools will, as much as possible, hang with the same students in each class throughout the entire day, a procedure known as cohorting. The practice is being strongly encouraged for grades K-8, and recommended in the high school grades.
The CDSE wants schools to figure out which students will be showing up for in-person education and who will be learning remotely, as soon as possible. That data will inform how classroom and other facilities are arranged to accommodate social distancing, which is another state requirement. Where possible, the state encourages schools install floor markings to make the 6-foot distancing mandate clear. The CDSE also recommends holding classes outside, when feasible.
In addition to encouraging social distancing, the state is requiring students to wear a mask, covering mouth and nose, from the moment they board their buses in the morning until the time they return home at the end of the day. Accommodations will be made for health reasons.
How packed districts can cram those school buses will be a function of the individual community's COVID-19 transmission rate. Bus companies serving towns with a "low" transmission rate can fill every seat. A "moderate" rate will get you spaced 6 feet apart from your neighbor, utilizing alternating diagonal seating. Given the additional resource usage required to both bus and maintain social distancing, it's not surprising that the CDSE is recommending that schools encourage parents to arrange alternate transportation. Schools will also be examining whether there is an upside to staggering arrival and dismissal times.
Schools must follow Connecticut's school disinfection protocols, as well as the state's guidance for the operation of ventilation systems. In their reopening plan, districts must describe their own protocols for the monitoring of symptoms that could be related to COVID-19.
Another pervasive theme is the mandatory training, and retraining of school staff before the beginning of the school year. Teachers and administration employees will all be expected to be up to speed on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, standard public health protocols, proper hygiene practices, personal protective equipment, reporting illnesses, and more. The state is requesting that schools designate trainers and engage staff in COVID-19 education regularly.
Cardona left the door open to additional guidelines as schools get closer to reopening:
"This document is intended to be a fluid document that will evolve based on the public health data trends as well as the understanding of the best way to mitigate spread. As we proceed toward the fall, we will continue to receive input from our educational partners, students, and families and will continue to work toward providing the best opportunities for our greatest resource — the students in the State of Connecticut."
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