Bob Rader, Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CT Examiner/Werth)

State-level Officials Urge Teamwork as Tensions Mount for Reopening Schools Across Connecticut

In a joint statement on Tuesday, the Connecticut Department of Education, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents urged boards of education and superintendents to prioritize teamwork this school year.

“The best way to have the best outcome for students is to have a good relationship between the superintendent and the board of education,” said Spokesperson Peter Yazbak, for the state Department of Education.

The statement comes after two months of tough decision-making by the 170 school districts across the state on how to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We always remind our members that usually the summer is a quiet time for superintendents. But this year, they had no time to take vacations. They had no time to ease up on the work they were doing of making very tough decisions,” said CABE Executive Director Bob Rader. “Everybody should be giving the benefit of the doubt to their superintendent during this time.”

Although for many districts these decisions were made without acrimony, in others the decision making was more contentious. In New Haven, for example, the board beat back a reopening proposal by the school superintendent and voted instead for remote learning.

“We are trying to put a positive spin on the difficulties of how to decide what to open,” said Rader. “We want our boards to continue to work well with their superintendents.”

Rader said he’d like boards of education to take a moment to thank their superintendents for their hard work and to recognize how difficult a time this has been for everyone from parents to students to staff.

Normally boards of education have the final word on major school decisions, including financial expenditures, but Gov. Ned Lamont has granted that power to superintendents for reopening.

“Superintendents got the final say on how to open, and we didn’t push back on that,” Rader said. “Those decisions were happening so quickly that we thought having the boards back together would not happen quick enough to address the urgency of this situation.”

Instead of a typical July without board of education meetings — a time when superintendents can take a break — this year school officials have spent the majority of July and August developing a reopening plan. Many school districts decided to begin the school year in a hybrid model of instruction — combining in-person and remote learning.

Rader expressed the hope that these decisions can be revisited after schools reopen and nerves calm.

“I’m looking forward to getting past these first few weeks and the anxiety. We think as soon as districts feel they are ready they should go back in person,” he said. “We want to make sure all our children are learning and — although it will be much better in the fall than in the spring — the best education remains with teachers and students together.”