One of Connecticut’s largest school districts will petition the state to reopen schools completely online, in contrast to Gov. Ned Lamont and Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona’s strong preferences for at least some in-person learning.
The New Haven Board of Education voted Wednesday in a special meeting to begin school fully online in the fall, instead of in a hybrid model, as the district had planned.
The resolution proposed to start school remotely for the first 10 weeks of classes, board member Larry Conaway explained during the meeting. The hybrid model, “which the district worked so hard on,” would start in the second marking period.
“It will give us a chance to look at optional testing, it will give us a chance to look to transportation, and mostly, teacher and paraprofessional training,” he said. “I’m really concerned about that.”
New Haven educators, as well as those in many Connecticut cities, have rallied in recent weeks to advocate for guaranteed state funding for all coronavirus-related expenses and more training, along with other protections. But the city stands alone among Connecticut’s large, urban school districts in planning for a completely online reopening.
Six board members voted in support of the motion, while three, including New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, voted against it.
Elicker said he leans toward the hybrid plan for “a number of reasons” including the mental health impacts of isolation, problematic home lives, food access and child care. He also emphasized the importance of decompressing classrooms, mask-wearing, social distancing and adhering to other guidelines in prevent the spread of COVID-19 within schools.
“Our cases are very low right now … I don’t think we’re going to see much better in the next year, maybe two years,” Elicker said. “While there’s a lot of effort to find a vaccine, there is no guarantee that vaccine is going to happen any time soon. … Even once we find a vaccine that works, it could be another 12 to 18 months before that’s available for the public en masse.”
“If we choose now with the number of cases so low, to continue to not to send any kids back to school, are we prepared to do that for the next two years? I think we can’t compare ourselves to Georgia and what’s going on in the South. They’re doing this in a sloppy way and their cases are through the roof. We’re in a very, very different situation.”
New Haven Superintendent of Schools Iline Tracey, while expressing her disagreement with the plan, said the next step is for the district to petition the state Department of Education for plan approval.
“I need for the board members to sit in front of the state board, the [state Department of Education], and convince them why the remote plan is selected … because if I don’t believe in something, I cannot fully argue it,” she said, noting the board could also provide her with the language she should use to address the state.
“I am not going to sit in front of them myself and defend the plan,” Tracey said. She indicated she intends to continue surveying parents to figure out how many would opt into a hybrid model, just in case the state does not approve a completely online reopening.
Lamont said at a recent press briefing, “If you’ve decided as a town you do not want to have any in-person classes despite a very low infection rate, you have to come talk to our commissioner of Education and make a very good case as to why those kids would be denied an in-classroom opportunity.”
He said Cardona would work in conjunction with the superintendent.
“Can I force that school to open? Can I force those teachers in there? Probably not,” Lamont said. “But I feel very strongly that if there’s an opportunity for in-school option, it’s the best option for these kids.”
Amanda Blanco can be reached at [email protected].
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