Some of the biggest school districts in the state are reevaluating whether to proceed with in-person or hybrid learning models as COVID-19 cases have spiked in Connecticut, and more could be on the way.
Bridgeport’s K-8 students will switch from in-person to a hybrid plan on Nov. 9. New Haven schools, which had planned to begin hybrid learning on the same day, will keep students at home “indefinitely.” And Hartford will make a decision about whether to adjust its in-person and hybrid learning model on Monday.
Gov. Ned Lamont has not identified any criteria for when he might order schools to revert to fully remote learning.
In the meantime, districts are on their own, said spokesman Max Reiss.
“The governor still wants to keep those decisions at a local level. They know their communities best,” Reiss said. “The response will be different … compared to March, when we made the incredibly difficult decision to close schools.”
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker announced Thursday that the district will not reopen for the first time since March with hybrid learning Nov. 9, as planned, but instead will continue remote learning after the city saw a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
“Our team felt very strongly that, because of the potential health impacts and the data behind the increase in cases, we should follow what we’ve been saying all along: that when cases are low we can go back to school. But when cases go up, that we need to make sure we dial back and go back to that remote learning,” Elicker said during Thursday’s press conference.
Bridgeport’s superintendent Michael Testani also announced Friday that K-8 students will be switching to hybrid learning beginning Nov. 9, “sooner than anticipated.” High school students were already on the hybrid learning plan and will continue with it.
“I understand this will pose challenges to many of our families, however, we must adjust as conditions change during this pandemic to continue to protect our students and staff members,” Testani said in the announcement. “We will continue to monitor the situation and keep you informed of changes or additional information. We will return to a full in person schedule sometime after the holidays.”
Bridgeport is one of 30 cities and towns throughout the state that are in the “red zone” as of Friday, the state’s highest alert level, which indicates a city or town’s average daily COVID-19 case rate is over 15 per 100,000 people.
While two of the state’s largest districts are changing their plans, other districts are sticking with what’s working for now.
Despite also being classified in the red zone, New Britain and Waterbury’s school districts are remaining open with the hybrid learning model in place until local health officials advise otherwise.
Waterford is also planning to continue with its hybrid model. Superintendent Thomas W. Giard III said that the district planned to discuss reopening to full in-person learning by mid-October, but rising COVID-19 cases in Waterford and surrounding areas put a halt to that.
“Our goal remains a full in-person learning experience, as we all know that is the best learning model, but we want a safe return for all,” Giard said.
Although decisions to close schools are left to local officials, all public and private schools are now required to report any new positive student and staff cases to the State Department of Education, which will report them on its new COVID-19 dashboard, launched Thursday. This tracker will be updated weekly, and in addition to reporting cases in schools, it breaks down how many districts are participating in which learning model.
“We’ve never had to report on this kind of transmittable disease information before,” Reiss said. “Now here we are, providing detailed information on a dashboard for everyone involved in schools across the state, because we’re trying to keep providing the best information we can to everyone to help them make the best decisions and for parents to understand what’s going on in a credible way.”
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