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Local Decision-Making on Reopening Schools, and Absentee Ballots

Or should we say, “Thunderous Thursday”? 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. We’re sorry that week’s edition is coming to you a day late on the tailwinds of Hurricane Isaias. But we hope you and yours have weathered the storm safely!

On the roster this week: Local Decision-Making on Reopening Schools, and Absentee Ballots.

State Takes Leadership on Public Health, Back Seat on Education

Last Thursday, Governor Lamont held a press conference in which he said that local districts would decide how a hybrid model of in-person and online learning would work. To guide local decision-making on in-person vs. remote or hybrid learning, on Monday the State Department of Education and Department of Public Health released a framework with helpful metrics that include indicators on the spread and prevalence of COVID-19 within each local community. On a weekly basis, DPH, SDE, and local health departments will review these indicators and make any recommended changes by county. (See Addendum 4 of the State Department of Education’s Reopening Guidance.) But why isn’t the state issuing requirements, rather than guidelines?

Dr. Fauci, who participated in Monday’s press conference with Governor Lamont, opined that, given Connecticut's low rate of transmission, getting children back to school in-person should be a top priority. Governor Lamont has regularly taken the position that full, in-person learning is the best option for students, and we agree! Ironically, however, Connecticut’s education strategy—which prioritizes local decision-making rather than statewide standards–is completely at odds with the statewide public health response that so effectively helped us to address COVID-19. The lack of state-level requirements means that local education authorities will need to evaluate matters of public health; students in different towns will receive different, unequal learning experiences; and Connecticut’s achievement gap will only worsen.

Indeed, a front page story in the Hartford Courant on Friday asked, “Who decides when schools close if students, staff contract coronavirus or cases spike locally?” Danbury Superintendent Sal Pascarella observed that schools with fully in-person learning would likely be able to cover more of the curriculum because schools using a hybrid model would have to teach one group one day and another group the next.

In other words, while Connecticut has been a national leader on bending the COVID curve precisely because we took a statewide (and even inter-state) approach, it’s now taking literally the opposite approach when it comes to safely returning students to schools. While the state has thought big and regional when it comes to COVID thus far, now it will think small and haphazard.

Connecticut can and should take a statewide approach to education, just as it has for every other aspect of its pandemic response. If we do, we can continue to be a national leader on handling the pandemic.

Don’t Forget that the Primaries are on Tuesday, August 11th!

In May, Governor Lamont signed an executive order that added a new criterion for absentee voting eligibility: the lack of a widely available vaccine for COVID-19. Yesterday, CNN reported that 20,000 absentee ballots that had been requested across the state had yet to be mailed. Your vote matters! Here are your options to cast your ballot this primary:

  1. If you plan on voting by mail, send your ballot back TODAY (THURSDAY, AUGUST 6).

  2. To make sure your vote is counted after today, you should either:

    1. Drop your ballot off in the official drop box outside of town hall; or

    2. Vote at the polls, which will be open on Tuesday, August 11 from 6:00 AM - 8:00 AM. Find your polling place today.

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