As Connecticut families and educators prepare for the fall, the State Department of Education has released its reopening plan. This plan supports districts to create and plan for numerous reopening situations, depending on the scientific data and prevalence of COVID in the area.
At ConnCAN, we are hyper focused on creating equitable solutions for Connecticut students, especially when their health and safety are at risk. Given the urgency of school reopening, ConnCAN has developed actionable solutions for policymakers that prioritize student and educator health, long-term sustainability, and academic progress.
You can review local efforts here, Comprehensive List of District Reopening Plans.
Specifically, ConnCAN believes the following solutions are necessary for a successful reopening:
- Connecticut should start with a HYBRID reopening, to reduce stress on students, educators, and on health and safety systems
- Connecticut makes the 6-foot social distancing a universal requirement, not a suggestion
- Connecticut provides ongoing testing for school students and staff
- At the beginning of the school year, all students partake in a baseline screener for academic progress and social-emotional needs
Starting with a HYBRID model
Connecticut should begin the school year in a hybrid model.
Importantly, the hybrid model will:
- Allow Connecticut to increase or decrease social contact, based on COVID data
- Reduce stress for students, educators and on health and safety systems
- Ensure sufficient social distancing for students and educators
- Provide in-person experiences for students to reduce social isolation and build meaningful relationships with educators
- Allow time for custodial staff and educators to clean and disinfect spaces
- Reduce crowding on school transportation without increasing costs for districts
No indoor institution in Connecticut is at full capacity. We cannot, in good conscience, require our most vulnerable to do what no other population does: attend school in an indoor, enclosed environment with limited space for multiple hours each day. Children and educators should follow the same regulations as other indoor requirements for Connecticut businesses.
This is especially true in Connecticut urban centers. Schools are often overcrowded and available outdoor space is limited. By starting with a hybrid model, students will be able to continue learning, parents will be able to go to work more than they could have during the spring, and it reduces the likelihood of a full shutdown due to a resurgent COVID outbreak.
Social distancing as a requirement, not a recommendation
Connecticut must make school reopening plans where six feet of social distancing is a requirement, not merely a recommendation.
The science shows that social distancing mitigates risk for COVID transmission. Along with mask wearing, social distancing is the foundation of Connecticut’s pandemic response and has saved numerous lives. We, as a state, cannot turn back on social distancing.
In many districts, due to declining enrollment and ample outdoor space, schools will be able to run near full capacity with the six-foot requirement. However, in Connecticut’s urban centers, districts will have to be creative in finding new municipal/non-profit space to hold classes. If those spaces are unavailable, districts will have to use the capacity requirements to offer a hybrid model. Other states, including New Mexico, have made social distancing a priority in their reopening plans. Connecticut must do the same.
Periodic testing for those on the frontline
Connecticut must use its vast testing system to provide periodic testing to students and educators.
Data and information save lives. Connecticut has used its testing data to make large-scale decisions on reopening businesses and the economy. Schools should be no different. In order to provide insights for policymakers and peace of mind for families and educators, testing must be available periodically for those in school. Otherwise, we are flying blind.
Connecticut cannot only rely on private testing systems to show if students or educators have contracted COVID. Many families cannot afford testing and those who are asymptomatic will fall under the radar. There would be too many gaps, and COVID would likely spread faster than a school’s response. This leaves children and educators at risk of contraction, transmission, sickness and potential death. Connecticut schools must have the resources and power to provide testing for its school community.
Understanding where children are academically and social-emotionally
COVID has likely had a significant impact on student academic progress. However, the social and emotional impact may be greater, especially in communities hit hardest by the virus. When schools reopen, educators must provide baseline screeners for all students to understand where they are academically, socially and emotionally. That way, educators have the tools and data to make decisions in their classroom. If a significant number of students have had a loved one impacted by COVID, it will change the class culture. Likewise, if students have missed key academic material, educators will have a chance to re-teach, shift and make curriculum decisions in the students’ best interests.
Connecticut children cannot start a school year without a sense of their academic and social-emotional needs. Policymakers and school leaders must provide educators with necessary resources and support to encourage student growth and development.