State Leaders Debate Spending to Bridge Urban-Suburban Achievement Gap

Both New London High School and Valley Regional High School spent about $16,500 per pupil in 2017-18, according to the state Department of Education. The schools are about the same size – with 568 and 583 students respectively – and are less than 30 minutes apart by car. And yet, every year students at the two schools have vastly different scores on standardized tests. In 2017-18, just 36.7 percent of students at New London High School met or exceeded the state standard in math. In the same year at Valley Regional, 59.1 percent of students met or exceeded the same

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As State and Federal Efforts Wane, Phragmites Control is Left to Private Efforts

Much of the Connecticut River is fringed with phragmites. Its light green reeds grow thick and tall, shutting out native plants, mucking up the water for native birds and fish and shielding the waterfront from view. Ten years ago, controlling this invasive plant was a major focus for both the state and federal governments. The Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service often had grants available to fund shoreline restoration projects. With consistent herbicide application and diligent mowing by a team of seven full-time employees, and many more seasonal workers at the state Department of Energy

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Old Lyme Zoning Commission Postpones Vote on Synthetic Turf Field

OLD LYME — The Old Lyme Zoning Commission voted to postpone a vote on the proposed Lyme-Old Lyme turf field at Monday night’s meeting. “I wonder why this didn’t go to our engineer, I don’t feel confident to evaluate drainage,” said Jane Cable, a member of the Old Lyme Zoning Commission. “This is just all drainage.” Every commission member present agreed that they needed more information and voted to postpone the vote to the October meeting. The $2 to $3 million project, which has been in discussion for years, passed the Inland Wetlands Commission in Old Lyme this past May.

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Despite the Changes, Lyme-Old Lyme Students Say They Are Glad to be Back

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It was quiet. Not your typical hustle and bustle of chattering students showing off new outfits, sharing summertime stories and class schedules. Instead, everyone – teachers and students alike – seemed nervous.   “It’s a really hard thing to put a name to, because it was the first time I ever felt that. Even though there were kids and people in the building and it should’ve been filled with that spirit and that energy of the first day of school, everybody was very hesitant and tentative and not sure what to expect,” said Marc Vendetti, a sixth grade English teacher at

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Deep River Seeks $119,000 STEAP Grant for Information and Communications Technology

DEEP RIVER — Instead of new sidewalks, this year Deep River is hoping to receive a $119,000 Small Town Economic Assistance (STEAP) grant from the state to assist the town in making meetings more accessible to the public. “With this proposed request we will have a couple of cameras and microphones so that people on zoom will be able to hear and see those at the meeting and those in the town hall will be able to hear and see those on zoom,” said Angus McDonald, first selectman of Deep River. Six months ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic policies moved

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State Officials Release Guidance on Truancy for Students Enrolled in Distance Learning

Statewide, 1 in 4 students failed to participate in remote education between March and June when schools were closed to limit the spread of COVID-19. In other words, 25 percent of students were chronically absent compared to a typical school year, according to data provided by the state Department of Education, when about 10 percent of students are chronically absent. So, with about 1 in 4 students choosing to study remotely this fall, state and local administrators have expressed concern that a high rate of absenteeism will continue into the new school year. But when students are not actually attending

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COVID Forces Temporary Closure of Valley Regional High School

ESSEX/DEEP RIVER/CHESTER — Two positive cases of COVID-19 among students at Region 4’s Valley Regional High School forced the school to shutter and resume fully-remote learning for Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.  “We closed VRHS for two days this week, yesterday and today, to allow for contact tracing and the deep cleaning of the building,” explained Brian White, superintendent of Region 4 Schools, in a statement to CT Examiner. “This decision was made in concert with local health authorities and the State of Connecticut DPH.” In an effort to reduce the spread of COVID, the district is following a

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Democratic and Republican Legislators Question State Guidance Limiting High School Football

After the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced on Friday that full-contact high school football will not resume this fall, Democratic and Republican state representatives sent letters to Gov. Ned Lamont and the state commissioner of public health urging them to reconsider the decision. “We write to urge you to convene a meeting with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the Department of Public Health, and your office to continue the conversation, work collaboratively and see if we can find a way for our young people to play football this fall,” read a letter sent by 24 Democratic representatives. In contrast to

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Take-out from Bar Bouchée in Madison

When you think take-out, you typically think pizza or Chinese. It’s a simple meal, or at least quick. But for the last six months, many other sorts of restaurants have been trying to change that. Fine dining restaurants like Bar Bouchée in Madison adapted their menus and meals for taking home. I have to admit, I was skeptical about gourmet to-go, but in mid-August I decided to give it a try. Instead of calling close to the dinner hour, as you might with pizza, at Bar Bouchée you select your pick-up time hours – or even days – ahead to

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As Reopening Stalls in Connecticut, GOP Leaders Call for a Greater Legislative Role

Connecticut has remained since June 17 in “phase two” of reopening — a significant delay in the scheduled rollback announced, by Gov. Ned Lamont in early May, of statewide mandates to control the spread of COVID-19. Lamont’s announced plan for reopening called for each phase of the reopening to last about one month, meaning that “phase three” should have begun in mid to late July, and a full reopening — “phase four” — started in mid to late August. “As of now, the Governor remains steadfast in maintaining the current level of the reopening process,” said Max Reiss, communications director

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Five Things to Know about the State’s New Special Education Data Management System

In an effort to improve and standardize data management for special education programs, the state Department of Education announced the purchase of a new statewide electronic management system this Tuesday. The statewide special education data system will be built this year in partnership with Public Consulting Group, piloted in select small, medium and large districts in 2021-2022 and launched across all 170 districts in the fall of 2022. Here are five things to know about how the system will change special education for staff, students and parents. #1: The system will put into place a statewide, standardized Individualized Education Plan

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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

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Hybrid Education Strains Working Parents as Connecticut Returns to School in the Fall

Flor Efscarcega’s daughter will be starting first grade in West Haven next week. Much like last year, her daughter’s backpack is ready, she has an outfit picked for the first day and she has arranged for after-school care. The only difference this year is that her daughter’s outfit features a mask and her after school care begins at noon. West Haven, like most school districts across Connecticut, has opted to return to school in a hybrid model — combining at-home distance learning and in-person classroom instruction. Instead of alternating days, however, West Haven has decided to send students home before

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20 Percent Spike in Drug Overdose Deaths Across Connecticut in 2020

Statewide, drug overdose deaths in 2020 are on track to surpass the 2019 record by 20 percent, according to the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Those numbers come on top of a reported 18 percent increase in deaths in 2019 over the previous year. In response to the increase, Gov. Ned Lamont declared Monday, August 31 Overdose Awareness Day in Connecticut. “Addiction is an illness that should be treated just as any other public health emergency, and we cannot allow this epidemic to continue consuming our families and residents,” said Lamont. “We need to send the message

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UConn President Warns Lawmakers of Spending Cuts, $73.8 Million Deficit

The University of Connecticut will begin the school year this week with a projected deficit of $73.8 million for fiscal year 2021, and that’s the best-case scenario. If students are forced to leave campus early due to an outbreak of COVID-19, the university could see a $116.2 million deficit. In an attempt to offset the financial impact, UConn President Tom Katsouleas told lawmakers on Friday that the state’s flagship university is planning to cut between $48 and $60 million from a budget of just over $1.5 billion. “There are not enough paper clips to cut to make this difference. We

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1 in 4 Students to Opt out of Classrooms in the Fall: A Deep Dive into the Numbers

Every public school district in Connecticut is required to offer a distance learning option for parents unable or unwilling to return their children to in-person education in the fall And nearly all of Connecticut’s 530,000 public school students have the option to resume at least partial in-classroom instruction. But after reporting startling disparities in student participation in remote education in the spring, parents, and school officials serving some of Connecticut’s most disadvantaged students, are again adopting a remote model for learning in the fall. Most other districts have opted to offer a hybrid mix of in-class and distance learning, apparently

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School Reopenings Across Connecticut Ignore State Guidance, Raise Issues of Childcare

“Schools are the biggest single provider of childcare in all of Connecticut,” said Beth Bye, commissioner for the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood in an interview with CT Examiner on Friday afternoon.  And according to the most recent data — judging by the standards released on July 30 by the Office of the Governor — every school district in every county in Connecticut can return this fall to classroom instruction. So the decision of nearly a hundred towns to adopt a hybrid model of instruction — combining distance learning and in-class instruction — misses the role of classroom education in

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Shoreline Menus Finds Success Providing a Local Alternative For Food Deliveries

“During the height of the pandemic, I did 75 percent of my sales through delivery,” said Alex Foulkes, the co-owner of Penny Lane Pub in Old Saybrook. “Going into this fall, I think restaurants that have a good delivery presence will make it and those that don’t, won’t. You’re going to see a lot of die off, unfortunately.” As dining moves indoors with the cooler weather, Foulkes says he hopes that his other venture, Shoreline Menus, can help local restaurants and main streets survive. Launched less than two years ago as an alternative to GrubHub and DoorDash, Shoreline Menus offers

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With 19 Nursing Homes Across Connecticut, Genesis Healthcare Warns it May Fall Victim to Costs of Pandemic

The occupancy rate of the 19 Genesis Healthcare nursing home facilities in Connecticut dropped by 23 percent between April and June of 2020 compared with 2019, the largest decline for any state in the nation. At the same time, the hourly wage for nursing staff rose by 45 percent as facilities increasingly relied on agency labor to fill in the gaps as employees contracted COVID-19 or took time off to care for their families. “These are astonishing figures that highlight just how wide the range of impact can be on skilled nursing facilities located in markets having high prevalence of

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As Connecticut Schools Prepare for Fall Classes, Officials Work to Prevent Loss of Music Instruction and Athletics

Within the next three weeks, every public school district in Connecticut will be starting classes. And every district, except New Haven, will be offering at least some in-person education. But whether those classes include music instruction remains uncertain. “When the reopen advisory committee began they were talking about removing some of the pieces of curriculum that could not possibly be delivered safely, like music, where there is a lot of potential for exposure,” said State Sen. Eric Bethel, R-Watertown, ranking member on Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee. “All of us on the Education Committee agreed this is something we had

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Positive Test Gives East Haddam Schools a Preview of Fall COVID Procedures

EAST HADDAM — Last week, East Haddam Public Schools received word that a participant in their summer school programming tested positive for COVID-19. “When I got the call, I was in a little bit of disbelief because our numbers here are incredibly good,” said Brian Reas, East Haddam superintendent. “But it was good to have a run of the process when there are so few people involved.” The process – which every school district will follow if they have a staff member or student test positive for COVID-19 – involves extensive contact tracing, two-week quarantines for everyone deemed at risk,

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‘Living Shoreline’ off Fenwick Approved, Includes Granite, Dune and Tidal Marsh

More than a year after the waters of the Long Island Sound breached a sand dune offshore of Fenwick, the Lynde Point Land Trust living shoreline project was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the local zoning commission. The project will span 450 feet of coastline and include granite sills, new fill, tidal marsh creation, a restored dune with native plantings and a cobble beach in front of the property. The project will also relocate Crab Creek within the marsh in an attempt to prevent future damage to the dunes. “The

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State Officials Call Tuesday Primaries a ‘Learning Experience’ for November Elections

With more than eight times the usual number of absentee ballots cast in many municipalities across the state, Tuesday’s primary election has given the Secretary of the State and local registrars a lot to consider as November approaches. “Yesterday was a giant lesson and looking toward November we are of course worried about everything,” said Gabe Rosenberg, the communications director for the Connecticut Secretary of the State. “It was obviously a learning experience to do this and now do it again for a pretty important election in November.” According to Rosenberg, the number one challenge facing the state and municipalities

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In Interview, Ojakian Explains Retirement, Lists Proudest Achievements, Plans for Reopening

After 41 years in public service to the State of Connecticut, Mark Ojakian announced today that he will retire from his role as president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system at the end of 2020. “When I look at what I’ve accomplished and when I look at the team that is in place now, I see an incredibly strong and committed board of regents and a team that will be able to operate once I’m gone,” Ojakian said in an interview with CT Examiner shortly after the official announcement was made. “I wanted to leave on a high

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Formica and Cheeseman Announce Long-Delayed $1.73 Million FEMA Reimbursement for East Lyme

EAST LYME — Nearly eight years after Hurricane Sandy and nine years after Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc on the Connecticut shoreline, East Lyme finally received a combined $1.73 million reimbursement check from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “Those two hurricanes encompassed a lot of my time in the town of East Lyme and my tenure as first selectman,” said State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme. “I pushed FEMA very hard along with now-Representative Holly Cheeseman to qualify and now it’s finally paid off.” Nearly every other shoreline town – including Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, all the way down to

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State Audit Again Questions Lack of Guidelines for Special Education Spending

Schools across Connecticut spend 7.2 percent of district budgets on tuition for special education students to attend alternative schools, according to a 2018-19 report released by the state Department of Education. Tuition for these alternative schools makes up $667 million of the $9.2 billion spent on education in the state. Despite that scale of the funding — some of it federal, some state and some local – a recent audit report by the Connecticut State Auditors of Public Accounts noted that it is not possible to determine whether these public dollars are properly spent, given that there are no guidelines

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99% of Old Lyme Loses Electricity — Tops in Connecticut — as Emergency Warning System Goes Silent

Within hours of Tropical Storm Isaias hitting the shoreline of Connecticut on Tuesday more than 99 percent of residents and businesses in Old Lyme had lost power. Two days later, 78 percent are still in the dark. Statewide, Old Lyme was the municipality with the highest percentage of outages and East Lyme had the highest number of customers without power. By 4 p.m. “we lost all our ability to communicate on Tuesday,” said Dave Roberge, the emergency director of Old Lyme, on Thursday morning. “We lost phone, internet, electronic communication and were unable to send out a reverse 911 until

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Lawyers and Legislators Debate Costs and Benefits as Policing Bill is Signed into Law

On Thursday Governor Ned Lamont signed into law “An Act Concerning Police Accountability,” after two late nights of debate in the House and the Senate. The legislation includes more than 40 substantive changes to policing in Connecticut, from new requirements regarding the use of lethal force to provisions for allowing civilian review boards on the municipal level, but the public debate and politics surrounding the bill has nevertheless focused overwhelmingly on Section 41 of the bill, which addresses the issue of qualified immunity for police officers.  Proponents of the bill, including State Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, and State Sen. Gary

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Test Delays Raise Questions — Spur Efforts to Reduce Wait — for COVID-19 Diagnoses

Whether to go to work, to travel out-of-state, be admitted to a hospital or for some just to visit friends and family, many individuals across Connecticut are required to take a diagnostic test for COVID-19. The test, which is now widely available and reimbursed by insurance companies, indicates whether an individual is carrying the virus at the time of the procedure. But with the results taking on average a week to arrive, they may already be overtaken by new infection and no longer accurate. “Demand for our molecular diagnostic testing remains high as the virus has spread across much of

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Interim Commissioner Describes $21 Million Deficit, Declining Prison Population and Infections

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With increased overtime, sick leave and inmate medical costs, the state Department of Corrections ended fiscal year 2020 with a $21 million deficit. “At the peak time of COVID-19 in April, we were averaging 320 staff members out sick per day for all three shifts,” explained Interim Commissioner Angel Quiros at an Appropriations Committee meeting on Monday afternoon. “In May and June, it started decreasing to 15 percent of our staff, but we saw an increase as soon as the executive order was signed by the governor allowing individuals who used their 14-day COVID leave, but tested positive, to have

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