HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The Connecticut State Department of Education has released new guidelines for the 2020-2021 school year following the announcement of the reopening of schools.

“Adapt, Advance, Achieve: Connecticut’s Plan to Learn and Grow Together” was created based on input from students, parents, teachers, public health officials and education stakeholders.

Education officials believe it will help ensure safety protocols, provide for students’ social-emotional well-being and “mitigating any barriers to accessing equitable opportunities that increased during the pandemic.”

The plan is based on six guiding principles:

  1. Safeguarding the health and safety of students and staff.
  2. Allowing all students the opportunity to return into classrooms full time starting in the fall.
  3. Monitoring the school populations and, when necessary, potentially canceling classes in the future to appropriately contain COVID-19 spread.
  4. Emphasizing equity, access, and support to the students and communities who are emerging from this historic disruption.
  5. Fostering strong two-way communication with partners such as families, educators and staff.
  6. Factoring into decisions about reopening the challenges to the physical safety and social-emotional well-being of our students when they are not in school.

“Healthy schools translate to healthy communities, and the safety of our students, educators and school personnel remains the primary focus as we implement this plan. Balancing the reopening of schools will require us to be flexible and prepare to adjust as needed,” said Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona. “After consulting extensively with public health officials and our school communities, the evidence is clear that having students physically present in school greatly improves outcomes and our ability to provide for their academic and non-academic needs. When COVID-19 first hit, we were all called on to rise to the challenge and, after witnessing the herculean efforts of teachers, school personnel and families over the past two months, I am confident we will come together stronger than ever to lead the evolution of education in Connecticut. ‘Adapt, Advance, Achieve’ is the first step.”

The plan further details the roles for parents, students, teachers and administrators while heading back to school amid the pandemic.

Each role is outlined in the PDF below.

Those who don’t see the PDF above should click here.

Parents will be allowed to send their children for in-person learning, blended learning or online learning. Cardona said a new “learning hub” will be launching on Tuesday with more information for parents about their child’s academic options. He also said districts will release a survey to determine how many students will not be returning to the classroom.

“We know that there’s not always one approach that’s best for all communities, so we’re listening to how districts consider this and work with them to try to share best practices there to mitigate not only the distance learning and making sure that students have the opportunity to learn remotely, but also balancing the responsibilities of teachers who will also have students in front of them,” Cardona said. “We recognize that with special populations, we have to make sure that we have special accommodations, different levels of protective coverings, and different strategies to make sure we can successfully meet their needs in the building.”

Districts were asked to be flexible with planning blended learning or remote learning for all grades in the event that a school, district, or region has to cancel or limit in-person classes due to health precautions.

The guidelines also focus on supporting students who may struggle while returning to the classroom or with split learning (in-person and online).

The department identified five success factors for districts to implement.

  1. Create a culture of learning and teaching that supports an infrastructure for blended learning environments.
  2. Establish a district platform or learning management system for communicating and accessing learning resources whether onsite or remote.
  3. Establish data review cycles and protocols to monitor progress and modify learning plan experiences.
  4. Create learning experiences with district standards-based curriculum as the lead designer for high quality, high impact instruction. This will ensure continuity of learning in the event of unplanned extended remote learning is required.
  5. All learners develop digital citizenship skills to participate fully in their communities and make smart choices online and in life.

Districts are also asked to develop and re-imagine learning to be synchronous and asynchronous.

Classroom learning is synchronous (will occur at set times), while assignments and tasks are asynchronous (students complete work on their own time).

Districts should plan to use a 50/50 rule: 50% synchronous and 50% asynchronous in a week of instruction.

Credit: Connecticut State Department of Education

Teachers are also encourages to create weekly office hours to help students who may be struggling.

The department also wants to help students with disabilities who may be impacted, including the following assistance:

  • Access to technology.
  • Access to academic skills necessary to engage with content.
  • Access to executive skills necessary to participate in remote learning.
  • Cognitive needs that may impact access to remote learning.
  • Access to multilingual communication to support engaging with virtual curriculum (e.g. verbal/written communication skills).
  • Behavior and social/emotional supports required to access remote curriculum.
  • Embedded accessibility tools to help students and families access the content.
  • Multilingual tutorials on platforms for families when providing materials. As a reminder, it is the right of parents/guardians to receive information in a language that they understand.
  • ELs should receive instructional supports both as a part of their Tier One instructional program AND through their supplemental language instructional program (i.e. ESL, bilingual). Explicitly note embedded accessibility tools and instructional supports in lesson planning.

Connecticut Education Association (CEA) President Jeff Leake and AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel released the following joint statement:

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.

Instead, it appears to pass the proverbial ‘buck’ for reopening buildings to local school superintendents and board members who already face difficult budgetary choices. It’s incomprehensible for state officials to pursue such an approach on the same day they released survey results finding deep disparities for Connecticut’s highest-need districts during distance learning. 

The lack of equity in this guideline is astounding. 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.

Further, nowhere in the guidelines do we see a plan for recruiting and deploying social workers or school counselors to deal with family, health and trauma issues experienced during this crisis.

While the guidelines call for following CDC (Centers for Disease Control) protocols in some areas, they fall far short in many others. The plan suggests social distancing between student workstations and that district officials should try to achieve ‘six feet when feasible.’ 

Teachers and school support staff know that, without ensuring the resources to allow smaller class sizes, that is simply not feasible in almost any Connecticut classroom. The plan also includes no additional funding to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for students and staff, which alone could cost tens of thousands of dollars for each district.

Finally, the outline requires a great deal of further planning for districts over the next three weeks. Not addressed is how will they be able to effectively collaborate with teachers and other community partners.

Clearly what Connecticut’s students, their families and educators need is a lifeline, not an anchor — unfortunately that is all this so-called ‘plan’ appears to be.