Union Leaders Question Safety and Equity of Schooling as COVID Surges in Connecticut

HARTFORD — As COVID-19 infections surge across Connecticut, union leaders went to Hartford to present a petition calling on the governor to shift all schools to remote learning absent stronger safety precautions.  The petition, signed by nearly 14,000 educators, school employees, and community members, is an “unfortunate last resort,” said Mary Yordon, president of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1727 and Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut.  In a press conference at the State Capitol on Thursday morning, leaders of the Board of Education Union Coalition urged the state to establish statewide safety protocols and

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Teachers’ Unions Press as State Resists Move Away from Classrooms

As teachers’ unions call for public schools across Connecticut to transition to remote learning amid rising cases of COVID-19, state leaders maintain that in-person learning remains the best option for students and that the choice of learning formats is a decision best left to local leaders. The Board of Education Coalition – a coalition of unions representing teachers and school employees in Connecticut – released a report on Monday calling for remote learning during the holidays unless the state strengthens guidelines for reporting cases of COVID-19 in schools. In his Monday afternoon briefing, Gov. Ned Lamont said schools have done

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Region 4 Walks Back Request for King to Resign

A joint statement released on Monday by Valley Regional High football coach Tim King and Superintendent Brian White announced that the school district was withdrawing its request for King to resign. “We both understand and accept that as educators and professionals we have a special responsibility to our students, staff and community during a pandemic and that we must place safety above all else. It is in this spirit that the request for Coach King to resign from the position of head football coach has been rescinded,” read the statement. Community members have been in an uproar since White requested

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Program Sends College Students to Public Schools to Relieve COVID Absences

Central Connecticut State University has agreed to send education majors to work in Connecticut’s K-12 public schools as a means of relieving pressure on districts experiencing COVID-related staffing shortages.  The partnership between the state’s public university and its public schools has been facilitated by the Office of the Governor through a project called Next Generation Ed.  The program is open to sophomores and juniors enrolled in the university’s early education program. Designed as a clinical placement, students will be assigned to their schools for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. They will be able to lead small group discussions,

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All Winter Sports Postponed Until January 19

The Connecticut Interstate Athletic Conference today decided to postpone the start dates of all winter sports until January 19, 2021.  This decision was very different from the conference’s initial proposal, which would have prohibited all high-risk sports but allowed some medium-risk sports, such as girls and boys basketball and boys swimming, to begin practices as early as December 5 and competitions as early as December 17.  Glenn Lungarini, executive director of the CIAC, which has 186 member schools, said that the board made this decision in light of the fact that more and more schools are moving to distance learning

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Schools Voice Reluctance to Repurposing Snow Days for Remote Learning

Last month, officials at the Connecticut Department of Education drafted regulations to allow school districts to convert snow days into remote learning days. But several school districts contacted by CT Examiner aren’t quite ready to let go of yet another staple of New England childhood. “A snow day is joyful and exciting,” said Lyme-Old Lyme Superintendent Ian Neviaser at a recent board of education meeting. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to take away one more thing from the students right now,” explained Neviaser. “Philosophically, I don’t agree.”  Neviaser said that having snow days was something he considered part

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As COVID Reduces School Demand, Farmers in Southeast Connecticut Learn to Adjust

In a normal year, Rick Whittle, owner of Whittle’s Willow Spring Farm in Mystic, would be transporting his apples, yellow squash, watermelon and string beans to school cafeterias around Groton.  Since March, however, distance learning has created a significant reduction in the number of children receiving breakfasts and lunches at school. This has impacted not only the school districts, which depend on the meal program to fund their cafeterias, but also the local farmers, like Whittle, who sell their produce to the schools.   Despite the shutdown in the spring, Whittle said he grew his crops assuming that things would be

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Drop in School Lunch Participation Leaves Budget Shortfalls

Far fewer students in Connecticut schools are taking advantage of free and reduced meal programs this year, a trend that could place local districts in a difficult financial situation.  Ian Neviaser, superintendent of schools in Region 18, which includes Lyme and Old Lyme, said at a recent Board of Education meeting that the school district expects to see a decrease of around $80,000 in funding this year from a lack of participation in the program.  Because of the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus, free breakfast and lunch is available this year for all students regardless of household income. Neviaser said one

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Homeschooling, Pre-Schoolers, Charter Schools May Explain Drop in Public School Enrollment

Over the last year, 6,000 families joined the Connecticut Homeschool Network bringing the total number of families to about 15,000, according to Diane Connors, the organization’s co-founder.  “We’ve seen a large increase this year unlike any other that I’ve been involved with and I’ve been involved for decades,” Connors said. “We have thousands of new homeschoolers across the state.” According to Connors, more than 5 percent school-age children in Connecticut are homeschooled, up from 3.4 percent last year. At the same time, the state public school student population has dropped by more than 3 percent this year, according to the

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Connecticut Schools Report Largest One-Year Drop on Record

Statewide the percentage students enrolled in public schools dropped by more than 3 percent, the largest one-year decline on record. For the last decade, Connecticut has reported annual declines of about 0.5 to 1 percent. “It definitely looks like we are seeing lower enrollment this year, lower than what we would have normally seen from one year to the next,” said Ajit Gopalakrishnan, bureau chief for the Connecticut Department of Education. “We don’t know as of yet what are some of the reasons for this … we know that we have seen declines in a lot of districts, not just

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$69 Million Deficit, Surprise Drop in Enrollment, Add to Labor Tensions at CSCU

The Connecticut State College and University system is facing a larger than expected $69 million deficit in fiscal year 2021 after a 15 percent decline in enrollment at its twelve community colleges added to a $52.5 million deficit at the four state university campuses. The drop undercuts conventional wisdom that lower cost and public unease with dorm life during the pandemic would boost community college enrollment in the fall, and underscores deepening tensions with organized labor to close the gap. “We are facing serious financial challenges. We are seeing reduced enrollment, reduced residence hall occupancy and at the same time

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Strong Gains Reported for Distance Learning in Low-Performing Districts Across Connecticut

One month into the fall semester, school officials report significant improvements in participation rates among public school students in disadvantaged districts enrolled in distance learning. Compared to this spring, when makeshift measures to resume education online lost about 70 percent students in New Haven, the state’s largest school district, during the last week of September reportedly just 6 percent of students learning remotely across Connecticut failed to participate in classes. These numbers are part of an effort by the state Department of Education to more closely monitor Connecticut’s 170 public school districts, in response to concerns that statewide efforts to

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Last Minute Addition of $189 Million Norwalk Project Roils Routine Approval of School Construction Funds

At 12:45 a.m., after a failed amendment to remove the late addition of an unvetted $189 million project to replace Norwalk High School, the Connecticut House of Representatives approved a $445 million bill that will provide school construction grants to 11 school districts across the state. The Norwalk school district did not submit a completed grant application to the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) prior to June 30, 2019 as required. The proposed bill provided an extension until December 31, 2020. The bill also included a reimbursement rate of 80 percent for the project if the Norwalk Board of Education

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$500 Million in School Construction Grants Expected to be Approved in Special Session

In the second special session of the year, the Connecticut House and Senate will take up a bill to provide about $500 million in grants for school construction projects across the state.  “It’s a very skinny school construction bill, meaning that there is not a lot to it,” said State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, co-chair of the appropriations committee. The bill contains grant funding to assist 11 school districts in either new school construction or renovation projects that have already been approved by local taxpayers and reviewed by the Departments of Education and Administrative Services. The 11 school districts are

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In Wake of Black Lives Matter, Advocates Press for Curriculum Changes in Connecticut Schools

As a mother, it’s what’s missing from the curriculum, far more than what is taught, that bothers Rashanda McCollum. “The story of Black Americans is not just oppression, there’s so much more that’s important,” said McCollum, the executive director of Students for Education Justice. “I’m frustrated as a parent because that’s what my daughter was taught.”  When her daughter was in elementary school she was assigned a project to research an influential person in Connecticut’s history. The entire class was told to choose from a list of 30 historical figures. According to McCollum, of those 30, just one was not

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COVID Exposure Sparks Staff Shortage, Forces Colchester School to Close

Colchester Elementary School has moved to remote learning for 14 days after 10 staff members were exposed to or tested positive for Covid-19.  Jeffrey Burt, superintendent of Colchester Schools, explained that a staff member tested positive for the virus on September 15. By the weekend, two more had tested positive.  Burt said he worked with the local health department over the weekend to engage in contact tracing. The department identified seven other staff members as having had contact with the positive cases, and they were asked to quarantine. This, said Burt, left the school with a staffing shortage.  Colchester Elementary

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Students Learning English Face Added Challenges with Remote Learning

Teachers and education experts in Connecticut are using a variety of methods to reach out to English language learners and their families, who have experienced extra challenges with remote learning.  Maribel Oliviero, the director of bilingual, ESOL and world programs at the New London Public Schools, said that when the schools were forced to go online in March, English learners, and particularly those in high school, were one of the least engaged populations. The reasons were varied. Some students didn’t have a reliable internet connection, or their families had changed residences and weren’t receiving messages from the schools. Olivero estimates

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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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New Regulations Require Children Three and Up to Wear Masks in Daycare

The Connecticut Office of Early Childhood has released new regulations requiring that children ages three and up wear masks in daycare and childcare centers beginning Monday, September 21. The regulations are based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which say that children ages two and older can and should wear masks in order to create a safe school or childcare environment.  Beth Bye, commissioner for the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, said that the recommendations came on the heels of a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, which shows that young

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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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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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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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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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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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Yale Offers Online Course for Public School Employees to Manage Stress and Anxiety of Students

As schools prepare to reopen in the fall, Yale University is rolling out a new online course for school educators in Connecticut on how to manage stress and emotions in the classroom.  The course, entitled “Social and Emotional Learning in Times of Uncertainty and Stress,” was developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and will be made available to all adults who work with students in Connecticut public schools. It is funded by Dalio Education, a philanthropic organization that has invested over $95 million in public education in Connecticut. According to Mark Brackett, the Center’s director, the 10-hour course

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