A classroom in suburban Farmington. Students here have had the opportunity to return to school in-person, full-time for months. Yehyun Kim / CTMirror

We all know remote learning will never replace the classroom experience.  We also know that the health and safety of our students, staff, and their families must be the primary consideration when making decisions about school operations.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  In an effort to promote the best continuity of education in Connecticut, whether in person or remotely, we must use the resources available, plan accordingly, and act responsibly.

Miguel Cardona

To assist in the development of local school plans, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE), in partnership with the state Department of Public Health, has developed and made available numerous resources to guide decisions around health and safety as well as educational policy and supports for social emotional well-being. CSDE’s various COVID-19 Resources for Families and Educators can be found in an accessible, central repository.

Planning for school success includes scenarios for remote learning as well as in person learning.  Of particular importance  are:

Addendum 4 Interim Guidance for Decision-Making Regarding the Use of In-Person, Hybrid (Blended),
or Remote Learning Models in Connecticut Schools during COVID-19,
Addendum 5 Interim Guidance for Responding to COVID-19 Scenarios in Connecticut School Districts, and
Addendum 9 on Contract Tracing Scenarios in Schools…

…all of which contain specific protocols and district, school, and classroom criteria for a uniform approach to managing and responding to COVID cases in schools, and guiding decisions about learning in school or remotely.

By adhering to these documents, there is much less probability that spread will take place in the school or workplace.  Thankfully in Connecticut, public health officials indicate that school cases reported are typically traced back to events outside our schools.

The commissioner on a recent visit to Farmington’s West District Elementary School. This is what in-school teaching and learning looks like these days.

Guidance around attendance, school engagement, and remote expectations have also been established and shared widely by CSDE.  While students, educators and parents alike desire certainty of programming, decisions about school models are influenced by community infection rates so it is conceivable that a change in model can take place at any point this year.

Each district must be ready to employ quality remote learning if necessary and communicate with families their efforts around food services, access to special programming, and other critical information to meet the academic and nonacademic needs of their students. Taking the lessons learned from last spring, we are confident that the time we have had to prepare and develop remote learning practices will result in a vastly improved experience in the future that keeps our students moving forward.

Our schools would not be open if it were not for the commitment, hard work, and resolve of Connecticut’s educators.  Their dedication to an ever-changing landscape over the last nine months has been inspirational.  We owe it to our students to continue those strategies that allowed Connecticut to open the doors to our classrooms and keep transmission spread out of our school buildings.

Now is not the time to let our guard down. We must stay vigilant on what is working. The use of face coverings in schools at all times has helped reduce transmission. Regular washing of hands and the use of sanitizer have also helped.  School personnel maintaining physical distance from one another where possible and using face coverings even when not around students helps ensure that quarantining is less likely in the event of a colleague being infected.  On the playing field, with friends and extended family, and in the community, the use of these same mitigation strategies can also ensure our schools remain open.

We know we cannot control the actions of everyone in the community, but if we do our part following the guidance of our health experts, we can increase the chances of the students learning in the classroom where the most effective learning takes place.

We have never had a time in which our actions impact others more than this point in time – but together, we got this!  Let’s rise to the challenge, stay committed, and play our part for the more than half a million students of Connecticut. They deserve it.

Miguel Cardona is the Connecticut Commissioner of Education.

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