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. This week we’re covering the state’s school reopening plans.
Confused About School Reopening Plans? We Get It!
If you are having trouble following what to expect in school districts across Connecticut this fall, you’re not alone. While the Governor and the Department of Education are clearly working hard to address this unprecedented moment, the state’s plans have taken some important twists and turns in recent weeks. To help you follow along, here’s a timeline:
March 15th: Governor Lamont issued Executive Order No. 7C, cancelling schools through March 31, 2020 (and acknowledging the potential to extend that date.)
March 17th: Governor Lamont signed Executive Order 7E, which waived the 180-day school year requirement for the state's public schools.
March 20th: Connecticut submitted a waiver request for federal assessment and accountability requirements to the United States Department of Education. (Request granted on March 27th, eliminating the SBAC for the 2019-20 school year.)
April 2nd: See Amy's New Haven Register Op Ed, supporting this need, but urging that testing and accountability measures be restored as soon as public health allows.
April 23rd: Governor Lamont unveiled a "Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group" to consult on the reopening of the state's economy and education system.
May 5th: Governor Lamont signed Executive Order No. 7II, closing public schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year.
May 11th: In an effort to bring more voices to the table, CAPSS Executive Director Fran Rabinowitz and CABE Executive Director Bob Radar were added to the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group.
June 1st: Connecticut issued rules for operating summer schools during the pandemic, encouraging superintendents to begin in-person summer school classes on July 6th and requiring districts to post summer school plans and safety protocols on their websites.
June 29th: The Lamont administration and Commissioner Cardona issued reopening guidance for public schools, announcing that, with extra safety precautions in place, schools would fully reopen in the fall.
In subsequent days, the state’s reopening guidance received pushback from a variety of stakeholders, including parents, teachers, and students themselves. Also see our Special Reopening Edition of Wednesday Weekly
July 24th: Districts were required, under the state’s reopening guidance, to submit their individual reopening plans. The state had requested that they produce strategies for three different scenarios: a full reopening, a hybrid model, and a remote learning model.
July 27th: The Governor and Commissioner explained that the state, in fact, will not dictate when or how local school districts open. This leaves districts to make individual choices on how they will proceed, whether it be full time in-person or a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning.
July 27th: The Department of Education announced another piece of guidance, with a dramatic reversal on recommendations for remote learning. The new guidance establishes suggestions for high-quality, equitable distance learning; identifies the steps a district should take to implement a distance learning plan; and provides a student-centered model for remote learning. It highlights synchronous learning, and is co-signed by CEA and AFT. (Notably, just last week, CEA chapters in several communities had insisted on the option to provide no live instruction).
July 28th: The Department of Education releases an update to the reopening guidance. (Tune in next week for more on this!)
DFER CT Takeaway:
The Department of Education’s new remote learning guidance sets a goal for districts to “make clear the expectation that educators deliver and students attend synchronous 1:1, small group, and large group (whole class or school) instruction each day in all subject areas.” But the state also granted local districts the option to side-step live learning by not requiring it. The most equitable path is to require that, regardless of which town a student lives in, they have access to what experts all agree is the most effective form of remote learning: comprehensive live instruction.
For a detailed look at remote learning and the need for more synchronous distance education, see yesterday’s article by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas from the CT Mirror, including comments from Amy: “A Quarter of CT Students Went MIA When COVID Closed Schools. Could Holding Live Online Classes Lure them Back?”
Lamont Administration Tackles the Digital Divide
Synchronous learning is undoubtedly the best option for students who must continue remotely, but it is only equitable when every student has a 1:1 device and reliable internet connectivity. Deputy Commissioner Desi Nesmith has noted that connectivity barriers disproportionately affect students of color. We want to shout out this leadership. The Department of Education, along with Nick Simmons, Manager of Strategic Initiatives for the Governor's Office, have worked hard to bridge these gaps, beginning by securing devices through the now-disbanded Partnership for Connecticut. At the beginning of July, a survey from the State Department of Education found that 29,000 Connecticut students had lacked reliable WiFi this last spring, and 50,000 didn't have a usable device at all. Governor Lamont announced the "Everybody Learns Initiative" yesterday, which commits $43.5M to closing this digital divide using the Federal resources allotted to the state. Access to devices and connectivity are no longer matters of luxury, observes Commissioner Cardona in the press statement. Tackling this problem will not only facilitate more effective remote learning during periods of closure, but will also promote long term equity by ensuring that all students have the opportunity to practice 21st century skills as a part of their education.