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Limited Special Session, Prioritizing In-Person Learning, and Creativity on Reopening.

This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. On the roster today: Limited Special Session, Prioritizing In-Person Learning, and Creativity on Reopening.

Special Session Starts Tomorrow!

Yesterday, the four Senate leaders gaveled in to adopt rules for a special session, which starts tomorrow in the House. (The Senate will convene on Tuesday, July 28th.) Legislators, who must be in the building to vote but will be following new social distancing protocols, hope to vote on just four issues: police accountability measures; temporary use of absentee ballots during the pandemic; telemedicine; and cost controls on insulin.

Prioritizing Who Returns to School

If you have been keeping up with Wednesday Weekly, you already know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that schools reopen. Now, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) are recommending specifically that younger children and those with special needs return to school–noting that online learning is ineffective for these populations.The NASEM also recommended additional public health guidelines for a safe school opening beyond those issued by the CDC. Here in Connecticut, it is anticipated that students will return to the classroom fully, with Governor Lamont recently saying to educators and families, “I’m gonna do everything I can to give you the confidence you need – when it comes to masks, when it comes to disinfecting, when it comes to social distancing, when it comes to cohorting – to make sure that you know you can get back safely if it’s okay by a doctor for you to get back. … I’m leading with the science.”

Reopening Schools Will Take Creativity

We're checking in on some local reopening plans this week, as districts submit their LEA Reopening Templates to the State Department of Education, due July 24th. Needless to say, without state-level requirements, local communities are producing highly varied responses. Districts like Meriden are proposing their own public health measures, limiting class sizes, as well as cafeteria and bus capacity. East Hartford’s hybrid model divides students into A/B cohorts that attend classes three days one week, two days the next, with remote learning continuing on days students aren't in school. Farmington and Waterbury plans feature contact tracing strategies, as well as isolation spaces for those who don't feel well. Many districts express continued concerns about lack of funding to address COVID-19. Meanwhile, ongoing disparities in one-to-one device access and connectivity remain a significant concern for those who are passionate about equity.

The question of the day is: Are we being creative enough in the face of unprecedented challenges? Over the past few days, The New York Times has shared a couple of creative ways to rethink our school spaces. In the early twentieth century, schools around the country used "open-air schoolrooms," limiting transmission of tuberculosis by moving classes into old buildings with open, ceiling-high windows, or simply moving classes outside. A separate, but controversial, idea proposed this week is for classes to continue remote learning (something we think will necessitate statewide academic standards and expectations), but to use school buildings as "Safe Centers for Online Learning" with reliable internet connectivity and devices for students who lack them at home.

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