State news

Connecticut officials unveil plans to reopen schools in fall

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -  Connecticut officials on Thursday unveiled plans to have students in grades K-12 return to their classrooms this fall, but with safety measures that range from mandatory face masks for students and teachers to the recommended “cohorting” of students with one teacher to reduce the potential spread of the coronavirus.

Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said Connecticut currently appears on track for a safe reopening of schools in late August and early September, considering the state has one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the U.S.

“My number one principal metric was the public health lens,” he said. “Just like we said about reopening our businesses, nothing makes any sense unless people feel like they’re safe and they are safe.”

Students in Connecticut have been out of the classroom for months. Lamont initially signed an executive order, effective March 17, that directed all in-person classes at all K-12 schools in the state be canceled. That thrust students and educators into a new world of online learning for the rest of the school year.

Lamont and State Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona stressed how Thursday’s announcement was just the first step to reopening, noting plans could change if there’s a resurgence of COVID-19 infections in Connecticut. Cardona said school districts should prepare for full reopenings as well as “hybrid” models with fewer students and more online learning, in the event of future community spread of the coronavirus.

Local school officials will also have to consider options for parents who may not feel comfortable sending their children back to school in the fall.

Districts have about a month to review the state’s plans, the details of which will be released Monday. They will need to determine how the recommendations fit with individual school buildings and where there’s available extra space for social distancing measures. Districts will then present the state with their estimated costs to make the necessary changes. Cardona said he expects many schools will reconfigure existing space, such as gymnasiums and auditoriums, into classrooms so students can sit further apart from one another.

Besides the required wearing of masks, social distancing, frequent hand-washing and enhanced cleaning, the plan strongly encourages districts to group together students in K-8 and, when feasible, students in grades 9-12. Lamont said that was a key recommendation from his reopening task force.

“They wanted that 5th grade class to stay as a group ... so they didn’t have to walk around the hallways, go to other classrooms,” Lamont said. “So if there was, god forbid, an infection, you know who those 25 kids and that teacher is, and that’s more self-contained.”

On Thursday, Lamont’s administration said there have been nearly 46,000 positive cases of COVID-19 and 4,289 COVID-associated deaths, an increase of 11 since Wednesday. The number of hospitalizations declined to 122.


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