Education commissioner says reopening CT schools ‘a marathon, not a sprint’

Education commissioner says reopening CT schools ‘a marathon, not a sprint’
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MERIDEN — If schools reopen later this year, Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said it won’t be business as usual initially.

“We still have many phases to go to get to where we want to be, and I just want families to keep in mind that it’s not going to be the same school opening as it was last year,” Cardona told the Record-Journal during an interview on Facebook Live Friday afternoon.

“There are going to be different things in place to protect you, to protect your children, to protect our teachers and our staff,” he said. “Understand that it might be staggered schedules, it might be two days on, two days off. It could be that we have students attending some days and other students attending different days … It will more than likely be (a combination of remote and in-school learning).” 

Cardona, a longtime city resident and former Meriden school administrator, said it’s “inconceivable” that social distancing guidelines could be followed if, for example, all 1,100 students and 150 staff members returned to Maloney High School at once. 

“The last thing I want is a spread of infection and we shut it all down again,” Cardona said, emphasizing the decision to reopen is a “public health decision.” A return to normalcy will be a “marathon not a sprint,” he added.  

The 30-minute interview touched on a number of issues and can be viewed on the Record-Journal’s Facebook page. Here are some excerpts. 

Plans for reopening 

Cardona and other members on the Education Committee of the governor’s Reopen Connecticut Advisory Board are discussing criteria and guidelines for schools. 

Some of those conversations, Cardona said, have included protective equipment, whether students’ temperature will be checked, changes to school bus capacity, school cleaning and rotating staff in the morning and afternoon to limit the number of people in a building. 

Whether to test every K-12 student for COVID-19 has also come up, Cardona said. 

“We’re looking at different models and what different people are doing, and they’re saying that having testing available to make sure we mitigate any contamination or spread is critically important,” he said.

Any plan will ultimately need approval from medical experts. 

The committee’s recommendations will establish the “basic level of precaution” required, but districts will have freedom to make adjustments.

“Windham County has different issues than Fairfield County. So for me to prescribe something and say this is how it’s going to work everywhere, that’s not the best solution. We have local boards for a reason. They know their communities better,” he said.

Making up for losses in learning

With in-person classes officially canceled for the remainder of the school year, officials are now focusing on creating opportunities for kids to make up for lost time, including summer learning programs and youth camps. 

“Despite the Herculean efforts of our teachers … we know that there has been some learning loss (as a result of time away from school),” Cardona said. 

The state Department of Education is developing educational “modules” for families, school districts and summer camps. 

“If I’m a third grader,” Cadona said, “and I missed the last two, three months of school, and I’m going to this camp, and there’s time at camp to do activities that are fun activities but involve learning, well, those activities might connect to the standards that that student might have been missing when they left school. It gives that child a little more opportunity to be successful when they move on to fourth grade.”     

The advisory board’s Education Committee is also developing guidelines for summer learning programs with hopes of “getting something started in July,” Cardona said, adding it will depend on how the virus trends. 

Addressing the idea of starting the school year earlier, Cardona said ”everything is possible,” but noted that may raise questions about whether the school year would need to end earlier. 

“I don’t want to rush into something, but no option is off the table,” Cardona said. “We have to look at this as an opportunity to be creative to meet the needs of our students.”

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Twitter: @MatthewZabierek

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