The State released requirements and guidance Monday for local districts to open schools this fall as hospitalizations in the state due to COVID-19 fell under 100 for the first time in months.
Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon expressed disappointment in the State’s education plan.
“My first impression is that it appears to boil down to wearing masks and doing more cleaning than usual, which is less than most plans include,” Yordon said in an email.
She referred NancyOnNorwalk to a joint statement issued by Connecticut Education Association (CEA) President Jeff Leake and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Connecticut President Jan Hochadel.
“We intend to fully analyze the 50-page document released late this afternoon; at first glance it appears incomplete at best. We have yet to find any reference to empowering local or regional districts with the resources clearly needed to implement the sort of in-person learning plan outlined,” the statement said.
The Department of Education released its plan Thursday to return students to schools this fall with an option for parents and guardians to choose to keep students home temporarily. The state introduced the possibility to rehire retired teachers and teachers who voluntarily identify as “high risk” or have other health concerns to lead continued distance learning programs.
Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said Monday at a virtual press conference with Gov. Ned Lamont that the state education plan leaves many decisions with local school boards, superintendents and school principals.
“We know that one approach is not always best in all communities so we are listening to how districts consider this and trying to share best practices there to mitigate not only the distance learning and not only making sure that children can learn remotely but also balancing the responsibilities of teachers who will also have students in front of them,” Cardona said at the press conference.
Board of Education Chairwoman Sarah LeMieux said last week that she thought Norwalk might have to be more conservative in its approach than non-urban school districts.
Cardona said Monday that schools will be required to designate a COVID-19 Health and Safety Compliance Liaison to answer questions and record concerns from students, parents, teachers and staff.
Much like stores, schools will be required to have markings on the floor to encourage social distancing and space between workstations. The report emphasizes space between teachers and students when face-to-face to reduce droplets.
As was discussed last week, students, teachers and staff will all be required to wear face covering when inside school — with exceptions for underlying medical conditions.
Each school in a district must meet the Department of Public Health’s cleaning and disinfecting guidance, among other things.
School officials and teachers will also be required to teach students about expectations related COVID-19 precautions and provide soap, paper towels, tissues, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer for older students. The state plan calls for schools to provide cloth face covering when feasible if a student does not have one.
The plan offers guidance on meals and nutrition including personal protective equipment for cafeteria workers and possible pick-up only or classroom delivery of food. But the plan only requires students to continue to have access to school meals at home if they are receiving meals and snacks as part of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), Afterschool Snack Program, and Special Milk Program (SMP).
Meanwhile, school buses will run at full capacity if state COVID-19 numbers continue to trend downward. The state says it may reduce bus capacity and enforce social distancing if it finds there is a moderate spread of the virus. The plan recommends school bus monitors to promote distancing but it is not required.
Thoughts from teachers union leaders
“It appears that we are expected to maximize social distancing and encourage social distancing, instead of actually implementing social distancing,” Yordon wrote. “It appears to be a plan for the best case scenario of no surge in infections. Perhaps by the autumn, if we have opened public places to groups, full capacity, and generally thrown aside the 6 foot rule, then this plan will be fine. Our schools will resemble public life and other places of employment and we can handle that.”
She continued, “If on the other hand, we are still limiting restaurants to 50% capacity, and standing six feet apart in cash register lines, this plan will be out of sync and unacceptable. If we are still holding meetings by zoom, and yet expecting 28 kids and a teacher in face masks to spend long days in stuffy classrooms, this plan will be out of sync and unacceptable. There is no indication that this plan will be in sync with what norms will be at that time.”
“The lack of equity in this guideline is astounding,” Leake and Hochadel said. “The reality is that some districts have adequate resources for the kind of plan outlined here; those in high-need communities do not. Parents in many of these communities lack access to paid leave and this plan would force them to make an impossible choice. They should not have to consider sending sick children to school during a global pandemic that health experts have said will still be with us in the fall.”
“I was hoping for a more serious detailed consideration of what health officials seem to agree will happen, an eventual uptick in infections. We need specific standards for moving in and out of the levels of precaution. This is a plan that will bring all students back into school for full days and full weeks, and safety considerations seem to be given a secondary consideration.
“We will spend the next few days and weeks in better understanding how the plan can serve the schools and certified staff. I don’t have data yet to share about the level of confidence among NFT members, but my emails and text messages are nervous stressed inquiries, not relief.”
The number of hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 in Connecticut is under 100 for the first time since March 24, at 99, Lamont said Monday. The total number of COVID-19 cases in Connecticut increased by 59 to a total of 46,362 cases overall. Four additional people died with COVID-19, bringing the total number to 4,320.
In Norwalk, Mayor Harry Rilling reported positive cases are at 2,081.
- Monday, June 29: Two new cases
- Sunday, June 28: Four new cases
- Saturday, June 27: No new cases
- Friday, June 26: Three new cases
- Thursday, June 25: One new case
- Wednesday, June 24: Three new cases
- Tuesday, June 23: One new case
- Monday, June 22: Two new cases
There were two Norwalk deaths reported in the last week, bringing the total to 138.
Lamont boasted of an infection rate under 1 percent with 6,354 new tests reported Monday.
Even with trends improving in Connecticut, Lamont said he is increasingly hesitant to expand indoor dining regulations to more than 50 percent capacity or allow bars and clubs to reopen later this summer.