Lamont: Full-time school for all unlikely this fall
Even if COVID-19 infection rates in the state stay low, Gov. Ned Lamont on Wednesday predicted there will be mix of in-class and hybrid instruction in public school classrooms this fall.
“Everything we’ve done so far, it hasn’t been ‘Do this over my dead body,’” Lamont said. “We thought it was really important to get kids back in the classroom whenever we can do that safely.”
Lamont and Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona have gone from issuing guidance in late June that required districts plan for a full, in-person classroom experience in the fall as an option, to acknowledging this week that many districts may not have the space or staffing to do that.
Many district-level plans submitted to the State Department of Education last week emphasize the need to create blended learning environments to maximize social distancing and accommodate parents and teachers not yet comfortable with a full return to school.
Lamont said while everything possible will be done to get as many elementary school children back in school full time — so they can return to learning and their parents to work — it will be tough to do that in high schools where students can’t be kept together throughout the day in the same classroom.
Keeping classes of students together throughout a school day and requiring everyone to wear face masks are key strategies districts plan to use to keep the coronavirus from spreading at school.
Speaking from an afternoon press conference at the Holberton School in New Haven, Lamont acknowledged there is work to do to get teachers on board with the plan.
“There is some anxiety there,” Lamont said. “School doesn’t work unless teachers are in the classroom ...I have to do everything I can to give teachers confidence that we are putting public health first.”
On Monday, Lamont cited surveys conducted by school districts that show 67 percent of parents prefer their students return to school in the fall, provided it can be done safely.
“So did an overwhelming majority of teachers,” Lamont said then.
Actually, school superintendents were asked what percentage of their staff they expected to show up for work in the fall. The answer was 81 percent.
A survey released Tuesday by the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, show that many teachers are apprehensive about returning in person in the fall.
Of nearly16,000 teachers responding, 16 percent said they would prefer a full return to school in the fall, 39 percent support a so-called hybrid approach, which includes a combination of in-school and distance learning, and 46 percent favor continued distance learning.
“We’re not there yet,” Lamont told reporters on Wednesday. “Look, we are going to work in collaboration with the superintendents and in collaboration with the teachers, encouraging them, giving them confidence, so we can get people back to school safely.”
It may be, Lamont added, that older teachers and teachers with preexisting conditions are allowed to teach remotely.
If infection rates rise again dramatically, Lamont said, it is likely all instruction would return to remote learning.
Lamont ordered schools closed by executive order in mid-March. By then, most had closed on their own.
“We were prescriptive when we thought it was dangerous,” Lamont said. “We will have a similar mindset going forward.”