By Elio Gugliotti Editor
Naugatuck and Region 16 school officials have released their plans for reopening schools.
All school districts were required to submit operating plans to the state for offering in-person instruction, a combination of in-person and remote instruction, and all remote instruction as they prepare for the school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents can choose to keep their children home and opt for distance learning, even if schools reopen for in-person instruction.
Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said last week it was premature to say how the school year will proceed in the region. He expects a decision to be made at the Board of Education’s Aug. 12 meeting.
In a July 31 letter to the community, Yamin wrote the recommendations on the table are for grades 6-12 to follow a hybrid model, with younger students attending school four days a week and distance learning on Wednesdays.
The letter also the states the board will consider making the first week of school half days for students. The start of the school year in Region 16, which is comprised of Beacon Falls and Prospect, was pushed back a day to Sept. 1.
Under the region’s plan given to the state, full in-person instruction would follow the traditional school schedule with health guidelines and restrictions in place, like wearing masks.
The region’s hybrid model would have half of the students attend school in person two days a week on a rotating basis. Students would remote learn when not in school. All students would distance learn on Wednesdays to allow for a deep cleaning of school facilities, according to the plan.
If the region goes to full distance learning, Wednesdays would be half days for students. According to the plan, the region will also go to all remote learning if absences reach 30% or higher.
Under Naugatuck Public Schools’ plan for a full reopening, students in K-8 would attend a full day of school and be grouped in cohorts. Lunch would be delivered and eaten in classrooms.
Naugatuck High School students would attend school until 12:30 p.m. then continue online learning for 90 minutes at home, according to the plan. Core classes will be taught in person, and students will get a bagged lunch to take home. High school students will be divided into groups based on grade level and each cohort will have a room designated for classes.
Under Naugatuck’s hybrid plan, 50% percent of students will attend school in-person two days a week on a rotating basis and remote learn the other days.
If the district goes to all distance learning, it will include live instruction and time for small groups and one-on-one instruction with teachers, according to the plan.
In July, the borough Board of Education voted to make the first two weeks of the school year, which is scheduled to start Aug. 31, early dismissal days.
In a letter on the district’s website, Naugatuck Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini wrote officials were preparing virtual presentations for staff and the community. He said in the letter that school officials will communicate plans for the return to school as they develop or change.
The plans for Region 16 and Naugatuck schools cover much of the same ground. There will be isolation rooms in schools for people who have coronavirus symptoms. If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a school, the school will be closed for at least two days and school officials will consult with health officials on the next steps.
There will be no field trips until further notice, according to the plans, and visitors to schools will be limited.
As for sports, that decision is up to the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. The CIAC released its plan for fall sports Friday. Summer conditioning practices are underway.
AS SCHOOLS PREPARE TO REOPEN, local officials have been receiving mixed messages from the state.
Gov. Ned Lamont and Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona early last week confirmed school districts retain discretion over reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic. There had been uncertainty regarding whether school districts or the state Department of Education would make the call on bringing students back into school buildings to start the 2020-21 school year.
In July, a spokesman for the Department of Education told the Republican-American that state officials would decide which plan would be used to start. Lamont and Cardona stated in response to several questions during a news briefing July 27 that local officials would make that decision.
When asked if there had been a mistaken impression that state officials would decide or if the administration’s thinking had changed in recent weeks, Lamont said he thought it was a “misimpression.”
The confirmation came after the state sent a lengthy document outlining guidelines and requirements for returning to school that left school officials with the understanding that the state would decide on how to reopen schools.
Yamin said he was led to believe that the decision on reopening would be made by the state in conjunction with local and state health officials, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yamin said he was disappointed that state officials backtracked and are throwing everything on to local school officials. He said the miscommunication and lack of transparency by the state will create “battle lines” between educators and parents.
“At this point, it’s up to us to decide how we go back to school,” Yamin said.
On July 30, Lamont said school districts will have to get state permission to offer only distance learning if local school officials believe bringing students back into school buildings is unsafe
As explained, the requirement only applies to school districts serving cities and towns that have low rates of coronavirus infection and hospitalizations for coronavirus disease.
“There may be some school districts that just feel anxious and they don’t think any type of in-classroom learning would work for them. I think it is a mistake, but if they feel that strongly they can go to (Education Commissioner) Miguel Cardona and ask for an exception,” Lamont said.
School superintendents and boards of education still have discretion to decide to resume full-time classroom instruction when schools reopen, or provide a mix of in-school and remote instruction, he said.
The governor acknowledged that he cannot likely direct schools to fully reopen despite his preference that students attend classes five days a week.
“If there is a rare example despite a very, very low infection rates that some school district does not want their kids going to school, we’re going to have a really forceful discussion with the superintendent about why that is,” Lamont said. “Can I force that school to open, can I force those teachers in there? Probably not, but I feel very strongly that if there is an opportunity for an in-school option, that is the best option for these kids.”
Andreas Yilma and the Republican-American’s Paul Hughes contributed to this report.