Schools to remain closed, distance learning to continue for rest of academic year

Connecticut

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH)– Governor Ned Lamont announced Tuesday that in-person classes at K-12 schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year.

Schools will continue distance learning through the end of each district’s official calendar year and will continue providing meals to children under school lunch and breakfast programs. Four million meals have been distributed to students across the state since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I know how important it is for so many students and teachers to finish out the school year, and I was holding out hope – particularly for high school seniors – that we’d at least be able to complete the final few weeks, but given the current circumstances and to protect everyone’s safety, it has become clear that it’s just not possible,” Governor Lamont said.

Related: Timeline: The evolution of the Coronavirus pandemic’s impact on CT schools

He went on to say, “I want to thank the many educators across our state who have stepped up to provide remote learning during this time, as well as the many staff members who’ve been putting thousands of meals together for students each and every day.”

Staggered start times, requiring students to wear a mask, and simply finding ways to create more space between students – Those are some of the things education officials will be figuring out over the next few months as they gear up for another school year.

News 8 spoke with Connecticut Education Commissioner Dr. Miguel Cardona about what summer school would look like. He said leaders want to make it as safe as possible, especially with transportation.

“Do we check temperatures before they get on the bus? Do we set it up where students are more spaced out on the bus? All of these are options. I would imagine the parents who are able to drop their kids off will likely do that.”

He also said they’re trying to figure out how to keep students and staff safe and healthy.

“Many students who live with multi-generational homes, you know the grandparents or someone at their home may have comorbidities, so we will have to take those things into account as well.”

Cardona said in the fall there will be long-distance learning and staggered start times. He said students will also be required to wear masks at all times, which he acknowledges will be difficult.

He said students should start wearing masks now so they’re use to it when school rolls around.

The news was bittersweet for many who work in Connecticut schools.

Megan Silva a 4th Grade Teacher from Ansonia lamented to News 8 on Tuesday, “I didn’t know on March 12 that was the last time I was going to see them…I wish we could have gotten some kind of closure at least a day or two.”

WATCH: School officials react to Lamont’s decision to keep classes online until the fall

Back in March, classes were moved to online-only amid the pandemic. Since then, the governor’s Executive Order covering remote learning has been extended twice.

Nancy Sarra, New Britain Superintendent of Schools was relieved.

“The thought of bringing back 10,000 students and 2,000 staff into buildings was stressful!”

Jeff Leake, President of the Connecticut Education Association applauded the decision.

“We can’t even ensure that all of our schools were cleaned, or disinfected and how that is going to happen,” he said.

CEA, the state’s largest teachers union is urging several safety measures for any future re-opening, including staggered start times, new formats in classrooms to ensure social distancing, daily cleaning, and disinfecting of computers and desks.

CEA applauds Governor Lamont for listening to public health experts in his decision to close schools for the remainder of this school year. Making the safety and health of students and staff the top priority will help save lives and prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

Connecticut Education Association statement

Jaime Ekstrand, a Technology Teacher in Ansonia said she’s “crossing my fingers we can all go back [in the fall] as normal.”

The governor also hinted at a change to graduation ceremonies. Many districts are talking about that now, some preparing to deliver diplomas by bus to each senior.

The Connecticut Education Association responded to the governor’s announcement Tuesday morning.

“We understand the emotion and sadness regarding closing schools and missing certain milestones and celebrations, but at this time, everyone’s top priority must be to protect the health of students and staff, and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” said CEA President Jeff Leake.

The Connecticut Association of School Administrators also issued a statement following the governor’s announcement:

We fully support the decision to complete the school year with distance learning. The reality is that no student can learn successfully in an unsafe environment, and re-opening schools before the coronavirus has been contained would only put students, teachers and administrators at risk. The most important thing we can all do now is work together to ensure a safe and successful reopening in the fall and hope that public health considerations will allow it to happen.

Anthony Ditrio, Chairman, CASA

The state saw coronavirus hospitalizations decline for 12 days in a row, a trend the governor said he wanted to see before reopening. While the numbers increased on Tuesday, Lamont said it will not stop the reopening. However, he said it needs to done cautiously. Medical experts said it could still be a dangerous move as the COVID-19 death toll in the state has now past 2,500.

“We will have greatly ramped up our testing, so we will have a little early intel as to where some of those flare-ups could be, and to be blunt, if you find on May 27 that we have had some flare-ups, and it looks like the nail salons are too risky, we can always throttle it back, but I hope we don’t have to do that,” Gov. Lamont said.

This, as 206 school districts in the state continue to move forward with remote learning plans, but the digital divide evident. Some districts are still struggling to ensure families can access online learning. Regardless, the state’s largest teachers union urged Governor Lamont to be cautious before he decided whether to reopen schools this semester.

Related: When to go back to school? Teachers unions say wait for safety sake

“The response in these surveys was overwhelmingly in favor of safety and waiting,” said Mary Yordon, Pres. Norwalk AFT.

“We are also pretty sure there are a whole bunch of parents out there that would be very concerned about putting their children back into schools right now,” said Leake.

Meanwhile, 40 other states around the nation have also ordered closures for the remainder of the academic year.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced New York schools will not be reopening this school year. He was the first governor in the tri-state area to make that decision.

Related: Cuomo: All New York schools to remain closed through spring

In the meantime, Governor Charlie Baker in Massachusetts also made the announcement that schooling will stay online through the end of the school year. New Hampshire has decided to end their school year early on May 30.

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