Gov. Ned Lamont and Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said Monday districts will now have the option to reopen in a hybrid model, mixing online and in-school classes, rather than bringing all children back to school this fall.
Up to now the Lamont administration has talked about all students returning to school this fall. As recently as two weeks ago he defended the state’s plan to re-open all schools. Since then, some of the largest school districts in the country have said they plan to start the year online and teacher unions have increased pressure on Lamont not to open school unless certain conditions are met.
Lamont called the idea that the state would mandate that schools reopen for full-time, in-person instruction a “misimpression.”
“Obviously I and Miguel [Cardona] and most of the folks we talk to...saw the advantages of classroom learning...especially for the younger grades,” Lamont said. “But that said, every town, every city has very different metrics...Some situations will be unique, and we have to give them that flexibility.”
On Friday, school districts submitted their plans for reopening in the fall.
Cardona said upon reopening in the fall, all parents will have the option to keep their children home “at any point.”
“Whether the district goes fully in-person every day, or hybrid...the parent will always have the choice to keep their children at remote learning, especially at the beginning of the school year. Down the road, when we are past a certain point, it may be decided that that option can be revisited,” he said. “But at this point, any parent in Connecticut has the right to keep their children home.”
Lamont said the state may have to take action to maintain flexible learning programs through the school year, such as extending the public health emergency, “unless the legislature wants to extend the flexibility item by item.”
Lamont and Cardona further clarified Monday the state is seeking to offer guidance to schools as they reopen. Previously, the state had indicated an official decision would be made on the issue of how to re-open in early August.
The state also shared the overall results of recent district surveys. About 76% of parents and guardians indicated they expect students to attend in-person, while 81% of teachers said they expect to teach in-person. Lamont said about 20% to 30% of parents indicated they intend on keeping their children home for distanced learning. Over half of the families polled said they also expect their children to ride the bus. Still, the state noted many families are still unsure, and plans may change.
The Department of Education previously asked districts to provide plans for in-person, hybrid, and online learning scenarios. Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona recently said transmission rates and new information about coronavirus were the two most influential factors in guidances issued about school re-openings, although he maintained Monday that it is important for students to attend in-person if it is possible to do so safely.
The Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, asked recently for weekly testing for students and teachers, as well as guaranteed state funding for all districts’ COVID-19 related expenses.
Lamont has said he is “willing to listen to anything that makes teachers feel safe,” and the state will give $99 million of the federal coronavirus aid Connecticut has received from Congress to school districts.
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