HARTFORD – Educators gathered at the Capitol Wednesday to denounce a hybrid learning model previously banned by the state and to demand that the Department of Education listen to teachers.
During the 2022 legislative session, the General Assembly made changes to public education statutes. Citing findings of disengaged students and technology breakdowns, Section 25 of the law prohibited dual instruction – the simultaneous teaching to students both in-person and online.
On Tuesday, the state Department of Education released guidance to districts on remote learning and dual instruction, which allowed exceptions to the ban for students with disabilities as well as shared programming between or within districts.
The Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers called for the department to immediately revoke the guidance and adhere to state law.
“We’ll continue our communications with the Department of Education, hoping to get them to adhere to the legislature’s ban. And we will defend the rights of all students to have best practices – not a second class education,” said Donald Williams, executive director of the association and former state senator.
Williams explained that students with special needs require greater attention and engagement, and the model is inferior for those in high-poverty communities attempting to learn via tablet or computer.
He said the best education model was in-person, the next best was completely remote and the worst was dual instruction as teachers must divide their attention in half.
“We are more than happy to open the doors to creative, instructional practices that allow us to tap into those technology resources we’ve learned so well…,” said Kate Dias, president of the Connecticut Education Association. “We just can’t do both at once.”
Williams, Dias and educators like Mary Yordon from Norwalk, Carol Gale from Hartford and Faith Sweeney from Westport all stepped to the microphone to implore the department to adhere to the prohibition.
“Our legislators thought that they ended dual teaching. We thought they did, too,” Yordon said. “Our members across the state strongly protest the encouragement of the failed model of teaching by this administration.”
But in an email, State Sen. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, who is co-chair of the Education Committee, said the guidance made clear that these course-sharing programs can continue.
“It was never the intent of the legislature to limit advanced and special education course opportunities for students who are racially isolated or who attend school districts with fewer resources,” McCrory said. “The legislation, crafted in partnership with community stakeholders, is always made in the interest of doing what’s best for our children, especially when it comes to in-person and remote learning.”
Tracy Sinclair, a professor at UConn’s Neag School of Education, told CT Examiner that the initial ban on the model was restrictive for all students and unclear for those with disabilities.
She said that dual instruction provided flexibility for districts, but failed to engage students in an equitable way.
“Without generalizing too much, oftentimes, students with disabilities can struggle with distractibility even if they’re at home in a quiet environment… So that can definitely be a challenge for that engagement piece,” Sinclair said.
She explained that hybrid models bring another layer of challenges to school districts, but pointed out that students with disabilities often need flexible, remote options. She said she was glad that the department addressed special education needs.
Anthony Anthony, director of communications for Gov. Ned Lamont, said in an email that the department put forth guidance because “we don’t want to rob any of our children of this quality, transformational” learning opportunity.
“Ultimately, this guidance is maximizing the available tools at our disposal, which are proven resources, to give children the best education possible in the classroom and beyond,” Anthony said.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski and his team were unable to provide a statement, but noted that Stefanowski believed student achievement is still lagging pre-pandemic levels.
“The Governor and Lt. Governor’s refusal to aggressively address and reverse learning loss in our schools is unacceptable,” said Stefanowski on his campaign website.
CT Examiner reached out to Independent gubernatorial candidate Rob Hotaling for comment but did not receive a response.
Editor’s note: The news conference at the Capitol was jointly held by the Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Educators Mary Yordon and Carol Gale, speakers at the event, are local union leaders with the American Federation of Teachers.