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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Despite Pandemic, Local Schools Expand or Wait-list for Fall Pre-Kindergarten Programs

In the last two years, several school districts in southeast Connecticut have decided to pilot universal pre-kindergarten programs for local three and four-year olds. Now, coronavirus-related concerns of safety, finance and teaching method, pose unforeseen challenges to educating their youngest pupils, even as the programs prove popular. The Westbrook school district, for example, introduced a universal pre-k program last year, transitioning from a half-day model to a full-day model.  The district intended to expand that program this year, before pandemic concerns put those plans on hold, and a combination of financial ramifications from COVID-19 and concerns about overpopulating classrooms meant

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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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Late Start, Short Season, Regional Competition for High School Sports in Connecticut

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced Friday that fall sports competition will not begin until September 24 and will last just six weeks. “There were two key factors at play in pushing back the start date for games,” said Glenn Lungarini, the executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. “We wanted our schools to have the best chance to get back in-person or hybrid and the recommendations from our doctors and athletic trainers was that it is important to have a prescribed build-up of training since the students haven’t had any structured activity for six months.” In other words,

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New Guidance Suggests Middlesex County Schools on Track for Reopening, While New London County Lags

One week after school districts across the state were required to submit “return to school plans,” outlining in-person, hybrid and remote models of instruction, local school officials have been given guidance by the state for switching between the three plans of schooling. According to an addendum released on Thursday to the Connecticut Department of Education plan for reopening schools, local school officials are expected to base reopening decisions on “indicators of the spread and prevalence of COVID-19 in the community” and the ability of local schools to cope with the virus, given the the physical and operational constraints of district

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Connecticut State Colleges and Universities Teeter with Limited Assistance, Uncertain Enrollment, Fear of a Second Outbreak

As the start of the 2020-2021 academic year approaches, the Connecticut State College and University system has a $10 million deficit caused by spring semester room and board refunds that were not fully reimbursed by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. “Moving forward our best bet is to get assistance from the Coronavirus Relief Fund,” said Ben Barnes, chief financial officer for the state college and university system. Although the Federal Emergency Relief Act has verbally confirmed that the college and university system will receive some funds, so far the system has not received any funding

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More Questions than Answers for Fall School Reopening Across Connecticut

With reopening school plans completed – including in-person, hybrid and remote models in each district – there still seem to be more questions than answers for parents, students and educators alike. For instance, what would determine whether school really does return in-person, as is currently the plan, or if districts will be told to use their hybrid or remote models instead. “We were told we would get those cut offs, like very specific cuts offs, but nothing yet,” said Ian Neviaser, superintendent of Lyme-Old Lyme Schools. “It seems like whether or not our schools close or all districts close will

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Daycare Industry Squeezed Between Dropping Enrollments and Growing Need as Connecticut Moves to Reopen from COVID

Four months after the Governor declared a state of emergency to slow the spread of COVID-19 and two months after the state began reopening, Connecticut’s childcare industry is operating at just 40 percent of its pre-COVID capacity, according to Commissioner of Early Childhood Beth Bye. “Three weeks ago, we were at just 16 percent capacity and now we have more than doubled that,” Bye said. “But at the same time, as it reopens, it’s very uneven.” Uneven, in the sense that in some areas of the state daycare providers are struggling to fill available slots and in others, families with

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Unions Press Local Districts Across Connecticut to Renegotiate Policies for Reopening Schools

Local teachers’ unions across the state, encouraged by the Connecticut Education Association, are asking school districts to negotiate policies for reopening schools in the fall, given the changes that will be required of staff. They are requesting that superintendents and boards of education sit down and negotiate under the Teacher Negotiations Act, which gives unions the right to negotiate whenever working conditions are altered.   “Successfully reopening schools depends largely on local districts ensuring a real voice for all stakeholders — educators, parents and other school community members — in establishing a safe and healthy school environment,” said the Association’s President

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High School Sports to Resume in Fall even as Students Remain Cohorted in the Classroom

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference plans to begin the school year with students allowed to compete in every fall sport if COVID-19 cases in the state remain low. “For the fall we are cautiously optimistic to return as scheduled, but not as normal,” said Glenn Lungarini, the executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. “Based on the numbers in Connecticut and the Governor’s reopening plans we will be able to start football on August 17 and all other sports August 27.” The conference released rules based on guidance provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations and

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Shortened Semesters on Campus and Full Fees for Room and Board as Connecticut’s Colleges and Universities Face a Steep Fiscal Challenge

UPDATE: Due to the need for consistency across the Connecticut State College and University System, Southern Connecticut State University will not be offering pro-rated fees for the fall semester, according to Patrick Dilger, the director of integrated communications and marketing at Southern. Students will be returning to campus in the fall at Connecticut’s four state universities, but in place of the usual crowds on move-in day, the packed classrooms and extracurriculars, students can expect instead a more gradula move-in, limited group activities, a mix of online and classroom learning and regular COVID-19 testing. The biggest change, according to Mark Ojakian,

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State Announces Full Reopening of Primary and Secondary Schools in Connecticut for the Fall

Required face masks for all pre-kindergarten through high school students, as much social distancing as is feasible and back up plans upon back up plans in preparation for a possible second wave of COVID-19 are hallmarks of the state’s plan announced today by the Connecticut Department of Education for reopening schools at the end of August. “This past school year was marked by disruption, next year’s school year will be marked by innovation and commitment,” said Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona. “It will be the most important school year for students and educators yet.” Although many educators and parents expected

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Two Norwich Tech Grads Confident in Tightened Job Market, New Apprenticeship

For many 2020 high school and college graduates the future feels uncertain. Finding a job or starting college during a global pandemic is far from a straight-forward decision. But for Chris Daley of Plainfield and Chance Weber of Lisbon, 2020 graduates of Norwich Technical High School, the opposite is true. “Knowing that I made ties with this company and I can stay with them and have a job right out of high school … I feel more prepared for the world,” Daley said. Daley and Weber are one and a half years into their four-year plumbing apprenticeship at Speirs Plumbing

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From 2016 Pilot Program to Graduation, ‘Dreamers’ Make Up 4 Percent of Student Body at Eastern, with a 3.8 GPA

In May, Evelyn Lemus Silva graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University as a Barnard Award recipient, the most prestigious undergraduate award bestowed by the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System. She was a biology major, has a research job lined up at Stanford University and plans to go to medical school in the future. She is also an undocumented immigrant. Silva, who entered the United States from Mexico at the age of 7, is one of the first 43 students to graduate from Eastern thanks to a scholarship from TheDream.US, a privately funded program that supports undocumented immigrants and those

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As Local Officials Await State Guidance, Legislators Voice Concerns About Fall Schooling

According to the Connecticut Department of Education, the 33 lowest performing school districts – known as Alliance Districts – also have had the least student engagement since schools across Connecticut were forced to close in mid-March to slow the spread of COVID-19.  Complicating their mission, Alliance Districts also serve a disproportionate share of Connecticut’s “English Learners.” Every school in Connecticut, public and private, has its own COVID-10 story, some adapting to remote education with relative ease and others with more than 10 percent of students failing to participate at all in distance learning programs. As districts plan reopening for summer

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Grant-Funded Study Helps Prepare Connecticut’s 12 Community Colleges for Consolidation

About 75 percent of graduates in 2017-18 from the 17 institutions that make up the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system were employed within three months after graduation. But less than half of students who started a degree at one of those institutions finished there within four years, according to data provided by the state system’s Office of Research and System Effectiveness.  At Eastern Connecticut State University, for example, just 45 percent complete a degree within four years and another 10 percent complete a degree after transferring to another institution.  In an effort to increase the number of students directly

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Draft Guidelines for Summer Schools Across Connecticut Prioritize Local Flexibility

On July 6, school districts across Connecticut will be allowed to begin in-person summer school, according to draft guidelines released by the Connecticut Department of Education. But in contrast to nearly every other school closure decision made during the COVID-19 pandemic, the state will allow local and regional school districts the final say on whether to reopen for summer instruction. “July 6 is the first day we could be in-person. We’ve been discussing it since it was released last week and trying to determine what is feasible and what we can do by that date,” said Jan Perruccio, the superintendent

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Interest in Homeschooling Surges as COVID Restrictions Reshape Public and Private Education for the Fall

On May 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance to school districts about precautions that should be taken if they are to reopen in the fall. The recommendations include students and teachers wearing masks, not sharing supplies, keeping desks six feet apart, social distancing on school buses, requiring one-directional hallways, restricting visitors from the school, staggering arrival and departure times and routine cleaning of surfaces and supplies throughout the day.

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Colleges and Universities Across Connecticut Plan for the Fall Semester

On June 30, the University of Connecticut will make a decision about whether the fall semester will be held on campus or online. “Our goal is to fully resume operations in the fall, and we are planning for this. However, if public health circumstances do not allow for this or if the state or the university are unable to meet the criteria for reopening spelled out in [the May 6] report, a more limited or scaled-back opening would be pursued,” explained UConn President Thomas Katsouleas in a letter to the UConn community on May 7. UConn, like other colleges and

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Board of Education Addresses Audit, Steps Forward, for Essex, Chester, Deep River Schools

ESSEX, CHESTER, DEEP RIVER — Almost three years after Regional School District 4 made an unfunded purchase of property for $350,000, and almost a year after the board first became aware of the deficit, the state has requested a corrective action plan from the district. That purchase was made under the guidance of former superintendent Ruth Levy and former business manager Kimberly Allen. It all comes down to zeroes and ones and a lack of accounting expertise in the district’s business office that resulted in deficits in the capital sinking fund, cafeteria fund and health insurance fund — according to

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Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Clarify Reports of Cost Savings

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This Wednesday, Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education will vote on the first budget decrease in the district’s history. The $34.9 million proposed budget is 1.06 percent less than last year’s regional district budget. The current proposal is $180,000 less than the budget originally proposed in February. “The goal was to have a zero percent increase in payments for both towns,” said Ian Neviaser, superintendent of Lyme-Old Lyme Schools. “Originally, even though Lyme was seeing a reduction in cost, Old Lyme was looking at a $180,000 increase.” The nearly $200,000 in total savings from the 2019-2020 budget come from a refinancing

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U.S. News Ranks Groton Magnet 10th in State, Lyme-Old Lyme 17th, Old Saybrook 22nd

Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton ranks 10th in the state and 532nd nationally of public high schools according to the U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 rankings. “LEARN’s Marine Science Magnet High School is a special community of intensely committed educators, students, and families,” said LEARN Associate Executive Director Dr. Ryan Donlon. “It is an honor to have the hard work and partnership of these three groups be recognized by U.S. News & World Report.” In Connecticut, 207 high schools were analyzed for the report and nationally 17,792 schools were included. The report highlighted Marine Science Magnet’s 100%

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Bipartisan Efforts in the Senate Address Shortfalls in Special Education in Wake of Coronavirus

As school districts await further guidance on special education during the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) are pushing for the United States Department of Education to hold school districts accountable for providing a free appropriate public education as much as possible. “Our education system is grappling with the transition to distance learning due to COVID-19, but now is not the time to backtrack on our commitment to provide a quality education to all students with disabilities. Instead, this is a moment where Congress needs to provide additional guidance and resources to schools to make

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As Connecticut Schools Adapt to the Coronavirus, Stark Gaps in Educational Opportunities Raise Questions About the Future of Distance Learning

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On March 16, every school across Connecticut was closed, and for the first-time remote learning was the only option for primary and high school students. Within days, the inequity of the learning opportunities offered was abundantly evident as some students with computers and internet available at home were able to continue their studies, while others lacked access to the technology and internet connection. “Today students in some places are getting distance education, but others are not. If this were to carry on for any length of time you’d have a case under the relevant statute law,” said Richard Kay, a

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With Draft Guidance from CABE, Schools Adopt Emergency Procedures for Pandemic.

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In an effort to provide superintendents with the ability to make decisions quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education drafted an emergencies and disaster preparedness policy that school boards across that state are adopting. “Two issues prompted me to draft this,” said Vincent Mustaro, the senior staff associate for policy services at CABE and the former superintendent of Clinton Public Schools. “The current situation requires having to make decisions quickly or change a decision quickly based upon guidance from the federal government or the state. Also, succession planning. What if the superintendent becomes disabled and

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Risk, Insurance, and Reopening Schools After the Pandemic

With every new disaster, comes new risks. With every new risk, comes a potential market for insurance. “We are not going to see immediate changes to plans or products that would cover the pandemic, but over time as we learn from this, we will begin to see some products that will be offered related to pandemics,” said Sean Kevelighan, the CEO of the Insurance Information Institute. At present, schools are not covered for financial losses caused by the pandemic or by health impacts if an outbreak were to occur at their facilities. Schools with self-funded health insurance plans do, however,

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Public and Private Schools Adjust to Cornovirus, Plan for Summer and Fall

Less than a month ago, for schools across Connecticut, it was business as usual… planning for Spring Break, gearing up for sports tournaments, rehearsing plays and musicals and — on the horizon — graduation. “On March 4, I gathered the faculty together and said this COVID situation doesn’t look like it’s slowing down. We may need to, at some point in the fourth quarter, have some sort of distance learning,” said Mark Fader, the Head of School at Williams School in New London. “I finished the meeting by saying I’m preparing you for something that in all likelihood won’t happen.”

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Proposed School Budget for Essex, Chester and Deep River Calls for a 2.87% Increase over 2019-20

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ESSEX/CHESTER/DEEP RIVER — At $21.1 million, the revised proposal for the Region 4 Board of Education budget includes a 2.87 percent increase over the 2019-20 fiscal year.  In a public hearing and special meeting of the Board of Education held on Wednesday via Google Meet, Superintendent Brian White said the proposed $21,153,741 budget, which represents an increase of $591,066 over the previous year, was the result of work done in a series of budget workshops held from Jan. 21 to March 4.  “That is the budget that is before the board for consideration and that is a result of the

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Learn from Home Task Force Takes on Equity and Coronavirus for Distance Schooling

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More than 185,000 book packages and 60,000 laptops will be purchased and distributed to students in the state’s 33 lowest performing school districts by the Governor’s COVID-19 Learn from Home Task force in an effort to bridge the widening achievement and equity gap during the extended school closures. “Few things are more important to Governor Lamont than a fair and equitable response to remote learning,” said Nick Simmons, the manager of strategic initiatives for the Governor’s office. “It’s no secret that we have a very wide achievement gap that could get wider by six months away from school. There are

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