NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A contingent of New Haven Public Schools officials and board members presented a pitch to the state Department of Education Tuesday to begin the school year via distance learning. This as schools in the Elm City are going to great lengths to prepare to bring students back to the classroom amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

That request was met with a sense of hesitation from the state Department of Education team in the meeting.

That team was led by state Education Commissioner Dr. Miguel Cardona and the group representing the state heard the pitch by the NHPS delegation remotely. Acting Commissioner of the Department of Public Health was part of the discussion as well. The New Haven contingent included Mayor Justin Elicker as well as superintendent of New Haven Public Schools Dr. Ilene Tracey, among others.

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The city’s delegation made its pitch for beginning the year strictly by distance learning, rather than in-person, or through a hybrid plan. Commissioner Cardona and the Board of Ed delegation listened to the presentation but seemed skeptical of accepting that plan, choosing instead to offer the state’s assistance to make an in-person, or hybrid plan work.

Before adjourning the meeting, Commissioner Cardona made it clear he is still leaving the decision up to the New Haven Board of Education, but he wants to have another meeting where they come to him with concerns not addressed in Tuesday’s meeting.

The city Board of Ed will regroup, talk to teachers, then go back to the state with an updated list of concerns. After doing that, they will decide on their own whether to follow the state’s suggestion, continue with a plan for remote learning for 10 weeks, or come up with a completely new plan.

In the meantime, New Haven schools are preparing to bring students back into the classroom.

Teachers have been preparing all spring and summer for a school year unlike any other. New Haven administrators have been working hard to create a safe learning environment if and when students do finally return to schools.

News 8 was given exclusive access inside three New Haven public schools Tuesday to see these new changes, including new kid-friendly signage on the walls and floors, updated ventilation systems, and socially distanced classrooms.

Principal Grace Nathman of Celentano Biotech, Health and Medical Magnet school told News 8 of the reopening situation, “I’m a positive thinker and I tend to think we were put in this situation because we are educators. And to me, this is a calling and we know how to handle it.”

Classroom desks are spaced socially distant, capacity reduced based on students who want to come back, and those who want to stay remote.

Principal Nathman has every detail down to the bathrooms: “only two allowed socially distancing in the bathroom at one time.”

Also, students will take lunch outside in the outdoor garden.

Down the road at Worthington Hooker Elementary School, they are also sprucing up the outdoor spaces. Pride shows in the changes they’re making for K through eighth-grade students.

Principal Margaret-Mary Gethings making it look easy, but this is a balance, she says, between “the importance of being safe but also capturing the love of learning.”

Ventilation systems have been replaced or updated. And if you’re skeptical of kids keeping masks on all day, the school district has planned for that, too.

Dr. Tracey explained, “every school will build into their schedule time for mask breaks.”

Principal Rosalind Garcia of LincolnBassett Community School told News 8 they have even removed the rugs in their classrooms: “We don’t have the rugs down, we don’t a lot of the beanbags and items kids would normally use.”

No longer a cozy setting – now sterile – but not scary. The children who’ll walk back through Principal Garcia’s doors are part of some of the communities hardest hit by COVID-19 in our state.

So each day will start with a mindful approach to pandemic trauma.

“Have students talking to their teachers, talking to their friends, to their classmates, before we’re actually even thinking about going into any academics,” Dr. Tracey said.