Education leaders, union heads differ on state's plan for students returning to classroom

Published on Tuesday, 30 June 2020 14:58
Written by Catherine Shen


Following the state Department of Education’s announcement last week on reopening schools for in-person and full-time instruction, a comprehensive plan has been released for the 2020-21 academic year.

Through the input of public health officials, students, parents, teachers and educational stakeholders, a comprehensive plan called “Adapt, Advance, Achieve, Connecticut’s Plan to Learn and Grow Together” will serve as a roadmap for districts as they plan to reopen schools at the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year.

The plan, according to the state department Monday, will allow students in all school districts statewide the opportunity to have access to in-school, full-time instruction in the fall, as long as public health data continues to support the model.

Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said healthy schools translate to healthy communities, and the safety of students, educators and school personnel remains the primary focus as the department implements this plan.

“Balancing the reopening of schools will require us to be flexible and prepare to adjust as needed,” Cardona said. “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.”

There are six grounding principle guidelines in the plan, which include, safeguarding the health and safety of students and staff; allowing all students the opportunity to return into the classrooms full time starting in the fall; monitoring the school populations, and when necessary, potentially canceling classes in the future to appropriately contain COVID-19 spread; emphasizing equity, access and support to the students and communities who are emerging from this historic disruption; fostering strong two-way communication with partners such as families, educators and staff; and 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.

While districts retain discretion in implementing approaches to reopening given unique local considerations, these guiding principles require all districts to develop their plans with a certain level of regional consistency, Cardona said.

Jeff Leake, Connecticut Education Association president, and Jan Hochadel, president for AFT Connecticut, released a joint statement regarding the plan. They both agreed the plan appears incomplete and does not empower local or regional districts with the resources needed to reopen.

“Instead it appears to pass the proverbial ‘buck’ for reopening buildings to local school superintendents and board members who already face difficult budgetary choices,” they said. “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.”

They also mentioned the plan lacks equity and many high-need districts do not have the resources needed to implement the plan. It also does not address the need to recruit and deploy social workers or school counselors to deal with health and trauma issues experienced during the crisis, there is no additional funding to personal protection equipment and there is no assurances of having smaller class sizes, according to the two union leaders.

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

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Tuesday, 30 June 2020 14:58. Updated: Tuesday, 30 June 2020 15:00.