Open Choice Expansion to Danbury and Norwalk is Hobbled by Suburban Buy-in

The expansion of a program to allow urban students in Danbury and Norwalk to attend suburban schools in Fairfield County has met a variety of challenges as the wealthier surrounding towns debate whether to enroll the students.  In 2021, the state legislature set aside $1.175 million over two years to expand Open Choice – a program that currently serves children in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford – to include Danbury and Norwalk.  In theory, Danbury children would be able to attend schools in Ridgefield, Redding, New Fairfield, Bethel and Brookfield, and Norwalk children would be able attend schools in Westport,

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Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Ed Narrows School Options, Requests Detailed Costs

LYME/OLD LYME — The Board of Education voted on Wednesday to ask Rusty Malik of QA+M Architecture to provide more detailed estimates for three options — one that includes only basic upgrades and HVAC renovations, one that would move the district’s kindergarten to Center School, and one that would build additions onto Mile Creek Elementary School.  The most basic project, at a a cost of $42 million, will include renovations at Mile Creek, Lyme Consolidated, Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School and Center School, including HVAC upgrades. “Our HVAC systems are, at best, 20 years old … at worst, some of them

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Not a Year to Cut Staff, Says Clinton School Superintendent Despite Drop in Numbers

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CLINTON — Despite declining enrollment numbers in the district, Superintendent Maryann O’Donnell said that this was not the year to reduce staffing.  In a meeting of the Finance and Facilities Committee on January 18, O’Donnell said that despite expecting a decrease of 57 students next year, the majority from the middle school enrollment, she did not want to reduce the number of teachers at Eliot, which would increase in average class sizes from 18 to 22 students per class.    O’Donnell said that the pandemic was still preventing teachers from running their classrooms the way that they would normally. She also

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Delays Implementing Dyslexia Legislation, Staffing, Leave Advocates Irate

After passing legislation between 2014 and 2017 mandating education standards for public school students with dyslexia, the state legislature revisited the issue in 2021 to pass a further bill requiring the Department of Education to enforce those standards. Unlike other legislative mandates, lawmakers in this case also appropriated $480,000 to create an Office of Dyslexia and Reading Disabilities with oversight of the department’s handling of dyslexia.  The money became available on July 1, 2021, the start of the fiscal year, and the intention, according to State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, a strong proponent of the bill, was for five new employees

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Draft Guilford School Budget Calls for 6 Percent Hike

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GUILFORD — School Superintendent Paul Freeman is requesting a nearly six percent increase for next year’s budget, a rise which he said was driven mainly by a spike in the cost of staff medical benefits.  The increase of six percent, or $3.6 million, would bring the district’s total budget to $66,076,234.  Freeman said in a board meeting on Monday that the cost of medical benefits are increasing from $8.5 million in 2021-22 to $10 million in 2022-23. This alone, he said, would constitute a 2.4 percent increase to the budget.  Freeman told CT Examiner he believed the increase was in

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$7.5 Million Borrowing up for Vote After Durham-Middlefield Opts ‘No’ on Closure

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MIDDLEFIELD/DURHAM — After rejecting the closure of John Lyman Elementary school in November, residents of Middlefield and Durham will be asked to return to the polls in February to vote on $7.5 million in bonding for renovations to the school.  After the Nov. 2, 2021 referendum to close the school failed despite gaining majority support in Durham, the district contracted the firm Silver Petrucelli to produce an up-to-date report on what upgrades and repairs needed to be made in order to keep the school functioning.  The report broke down the upgrades into four priority levels. The most urgent changes, levels

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Madison Parents Voice Concerns About Consistency, Effectiveness of COVID Measures in Schools

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MADISON — Parents at a Board of Education meeting on Tuesday called for a Question-and-Answer forum to discuss the district’s COVID-19 policies — policies that parents complained were inconsistent across schools and ineffective, but that Board of Education members and school administration said were critical to keep students safely learning in person.  About nine parents brought up concerns at the meeting ranging from differences in policies for vaccinated and unvaccinated students, the use of plexiglass shields, and the need to continue wearing masks.  Several parents also said they were upset about the difference in policies, particularly around masking, between the

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Quick Decision on $40+ Million School Renovations Meets Caution from Lyme-Old Lyme Board

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LYME/OLD LYME — The Board of Education voted on Wednesday to exclude from consideration any district-wide construction projects that would involve moving fifth graders to the middle school.  The vote eliminated two of the six options that Rusty Malik, a principal at the architectural firm QA + M, presented to the Board of Education in November to upgrade four of the district’s five school buildings.  At the meeting, Board of Education members said that they had heard opposition from community members to the idea of having the fifth graders together with the older students.  “It’s a real big deal to

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Lamont Pledges Support for Keeping Connecticut’s Children in the Classroom

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As Connecticut’s positivity rate for COVID-19 tops 24 percent, Gov. Ned Lamont pledged on Tuesday to do everything possible to keep the state’s children in the classroom.  “I’m going to do everything I can do to keep kids in the classroom safely,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday morning. “Nothing compares to a great teacher in a great classroom.”  Already, Stonington Public Schools have delayed opening after Christmas vacation, Ansonia Public Schools have closed for the full week and many other districts have closed one or two schools to cope with bus driver and teacher shortages stemming from

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Teachers Unions Press for Stricter COVID Protocols With Return to the Classrooms

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A coalition of unions representing teachers, paraeducators and school staff are demanding a new set of protocols around testing, masking and vaccinations which they say will make it possible for in-person learning to continue safely.   Kate Dias, president of the Connecticut Education Association, said in a press conference on Monday that up to 60 percent of the teachers she represents do not have access to masks, and that 70 percent don’t have access to testing.  “What we’ve seen is a real lack of a plan,” said Dias. The Board of Education Union Coalition, which represents 60,000 school educators and staff,

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‘Whole Child’ Curriculum Sparks Debate in Connecticut Over Parental Role, Opting Out

In June, the Connecticut Department of Education released a new framework for health education –  Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child – in keeping with the most popular buzzword among educators over the past few years: social emotional learning. “The most critical part of this is that there is much more emphasis on education of the whole child,” said John Frassinelli, division director at the Department of Education’s Bureau of Health, Nutrition, Family Services and Adult Education. “It’s woven in alignment with the social emotional learning standards.”  According to Frassinelli, the new framework places a greater emphasis on teaching self-awareness,

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Parents Caught in Fighting at Middletown Schools Ask School Officials for Help

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MIDDLETOWN — A small but active group of parents is pressing the Board of Education to take stronger action against fighting at the middle and high school, but local school officials say that the number of fights is no greater than in any other year. They acknowledge that fighting is a problem, but also voiced concerns that a disproportionate number of Black and brown students have been disciplined for incidents in the schools.  Last year, Maria Amato’s niece was an honor student at Middletown High School. This year, Amato said, things have changed – her niece, a junior, has skipped

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Students and Parents Rally in Norwich to Protest School Bullying

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NORWICH — Students from several school districts in the eastern part of the state marched around Parade Green in the pouring rain on Saturday to protest bullying and threats of violence in the local districts over the last few months.  Holding signs that read “How do you learn and cope @ the same time?” and “Fear has no place in schools”, a group of about 25 students and parents circled the green, led by a 12th grader with a megaphone leading chants of “I’ll back you up,” and “No silence, no violence.”  Other parents, students and community members crowded under

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School Superintendents Gather to Discuss Ongoing Challenges of the Pandemic

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STONINGTON — School superintendents of Stonington, Preston and Griswold came together on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing challenges of the COVID pandemic in their districts and what parents can do to address problems that have come up. State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, and State Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, hosted the forum, which began with a discussion about the importance of civil dialogue before turning to the topic of student learning. Maryann Butler, assistant superintendent of Stonington Public Schools, said that her district was implementing a program of accelerated learning to catch students up from what they missed in prior years. 

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Jump in Non-Native English Speakers Prompts Clinton Schools to Offer Bilingual Education

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CLINTON — A large increase in the number of students with a first language other than English is prompting the district to look at options for an in-district bilingual education program. According to district data, in the 2017-18 school year, Clinton had 74 students who were considered “English learners,” a number that rounds out to 4.2 percent of the district. Four years later, that number increased to 124 students, or 7.8 percent of the student body — even as the total number of students in the district declined.  Under Connecticut state law, any school that has at least 20 students

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A Closer Look at School Enrollment in Madison and Lyme-Old Lyme

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When it comes to enrollment, parents and community members in Madison and Old Lyme are debating whether it’s better to see the schools as half empty or half full.  “It sounds like you’re projecting a really rosy picture based on birthrates,” Madison resident Rick Fearon told the superintendent and the Board of Education in a community forum on Nov. 9. While projections show that Madison’s student population will increase over the next eight years, Fearon pointed out that the number of children in the district has been on a steady decline. “One might argue irrespective of birth rates, a tax

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East Lyme Schools to Consider Southern Connecticut State Model For Bias

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EAST LYME — The school district’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee is considering the usefulness of developing a formal protocol to address issues of hate speech and bias in the district.  The model is based on a document created by Southern Connecticut State University that aims to create a process for students to bring forward complaints of bias to a team of individuals who are trained to handle these incidents.  “This is something I would really like to potentially replicate here in East Lyme,” Superintendent Jeffrey Newton said at a meeting of the committee on Tuesday.  Newton told CT Examiner

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Connecticut Schools Face Tricky Balance of Costs, Staff and Services for Special Ed

A decade of rising costs for special education and increased student need are facing a staffing shortage that is frustrating efforts both by parents to provide suitable services for their children and by local districts needing a balanced budget. According to state data, the total number of students in special education has increased from 63,482 in 2010-11 to 79,058 in 2020-21. Also increased is the percentage of students who are in need of special education — from 11.6 percent of the student population to 15.9 percent over the same time period.  One of the most dramatic increases is in diagnoses

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Madison Selectmen Okay $89.5 Million in Borrowing, Debate Use of Undesignated Fund

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MADISON — The Board of Selectmen voted Monday night to recommend borrowing up to $89.5 million for a school renewal project and $15.9 million for the conversion of the former Academy School building to a community center.  The bonds would be paid off over 25 years. First Selectwoman Peggy Lyons estimated that the cost to the taxpayers would average of $181 per $100,000 of assessed property value per year — $28 for the Academy School bond and $153 for the bonds associated with the school renewal plan — taking into account expected reimbursement from the state.  The cost would be

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Middletown Board of Education Cancels Planned Closed-Door ‘Retreat’

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MIDDLETOWN — The Board of Education walked back a decision to hold a behind-closed-doors retreat on Saturday that would have violated state freedom of information laws. According to the posted agenda, the board planned to discuss five items in an executive session, or behind closed doors. These items included a discussion of the responsibilities of the school board, an overview of the Strategic Operation plan, board goals, the school website, and a discussion of a committee on personnel.  That plan came under fire from one local resident, in a widely distributed letter, who pointed out that such a meeting would

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Lyme-Old Lyme Parents Voice Concerns at Board of Education Meeting

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LYME-OLD LYME — Local parents voiced concerns on Wednesday evening about a $42 to $52 million facilities project that could potentially change the ways that grade levels are distributed across the different school buildings.   In a presentation to the Board of Education, Rusty Malik, a partner at the architectural firm QA + M, laid out six options for the community to consider. The options ranged from upgrades to HVAC and heating systems and accessibility upgrades to the building of a new school.  Malik said that the most basic of the options — an estimated cost of $42 million to the

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Board of Education Hears Outpouring of Public Concern in Middletown

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MIDDLETOWN — In a  meeting on Tuesday night, parents and members of the community, Mayor Benjamin Florsheim and party leaders of the Common Council, implored the city’s Board of Education to pursue a fair and transparent investigation of claims of harassment by current and former employees of the school district.  More than 20 people addressed the board to voice their concerns about the impartiality of the investigation, the perceived lack of transparency by the board, and to offer support to the superintendent of schools.  Those comments are in part a response to a mid-October joint statement by the teacher’s union,

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Stamford YMCA Faulted for Treatment of Child With Autism

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STAMFORD — The Department of Justice is requiring the Stamford YMCA to make its childcare programs accessible to children on the autism spectrum after a child with special needs was expelled from an afterschool program without warning in January 2020.  The child’s mother, who asked not to be identified out of privacy concerns, said that the child started attending the aftercare program at the YMCA in August of 2018. In the fall of 2019, when her son was in first grade, she said he started coming home very upset almost every day. She said this was shortly after the facility

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Gateway Community College Pitches Automotive Program for Leap to Electric

NORTH HAVEN — Seven students enrolled in the General Motors Automotive Training Program at Gateway Community College are gathered around a 2013 Chevy Equinox on a Thursday morning. Today’s assignment? Find the leak.  A laptop is hooked up to the front of the car to communicate with the vehicle’s computerized system. The students listen as their professor, Dan Fuller, tells them how to solve the puzzle — blow smoke into the fuel system and watch where it comes out.   The students are second-years taking a course called engine diagnostics. Each student is also working a paid internship with a car

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Madison Board of Education Okays $89 Million School Plan

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MADISON — The town’s Board of Education voted to approve a proposed $89 million school renewal plan on Tuesday after hearing residents’ concerns about tax increases, future enrollment numbers and increased traffic in the area.  During a Board of Education meeting that doubled as a public forum, current and former parents in the district, as well as community residents, listened in-person and on Zoom as Superintendent Craig Cooke presented an overview of the plan. The plan is expected to go to a referendum on February 15, 2022.  The project includes four parts: constructing a new pre-kindergarten to fifth grade elementary

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Clinton Board of Education Votes to Create a Subcommittee on Personnel Issues

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CLINTON — The Board of Education voted unanimously on Monday to create a subcommittee devoted to looking at personnel issues in the district.  Board Chair Erica Gelven proposed the idea for the subcommittee in response to the concerns raised over the last two weeks regarding complaints by former teachers in the Clinton school district of a toxic work environment.  Gelven said that while the board was not responsible for the day-to-day management of personnel, she said there is still a role that the board can play.  The subcommittee would study and make recommendations to the Board of Education in areas

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Voters to Decide Whether to Close Lyman Elementary in Durham/Middlefield

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DURHAM/MIDDLEFIELD — Voters will be asked to grant the Region 13 Board of Education the ability to close Lyman Elementary School in a referendum question on the Nov. 2 ballot.  The closure would reconfigure the four remaining schools in the district. Although the reconfiguration has not yet been decided, the most likely outcome would  place Pre-K through 2nd grade at Brewster Elementary School, 3rd through 5th grade at Memorial School, 6-8th grade at Frank Ward Strong Middle School and 9-12th grade at Coginchaug Regional High School.  Robert Moore, chair of the Board of Education, said that the major reason for

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Student Quarantines Pose a Significant Challenge for the New Normal

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Large numbers of student quarantines in districts across Connecticut may be undermining the state’s plans for a normal, fully in-person school year.  In the past six weeks, 132 students in the Region 4 schools have been sent home to quarantine for a minimum of 10 days due to potential exposure to COVID-19, according to superintendent Brian White. The district is not alone with high numbers of quarantined students.  Lyme-Old Lyme has had 41 students sent home to quarantine since classes began, Guilford has reported a total of 110 student quarantines and according to the State Department of Education it’s a

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In Packed Meeting, Labor Officials Decry Reporting on Clinton Schools

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CLINTON —Members of the Education Association of Clinton packed a Board of Education meeting on Monday in response to allegations from former and current teachers in Clinton about a hostile work environment in the district and criticism directed at the district’s union representative.  On Sunday evening, Michael Meizies, president of the Education Association of Clinton, sent an email to members in the district, asking that they attend the Board of Education meeting on Monday.   “In light of recent developments regarding the loss of a longtime Joel School faculty member, and that loss being referenced by a recent newspaper article, the EAC

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Griswold Fields Esports Team in League of 3,400 Participating Schools

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Jim Rand, a social studies teacher and coach at Griswold High School, stands in front of his players at 2:30 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon giving a pre-game pep talk.  “It’s always better we win, but even if you don’t… don’t fear,” he said.  He reminds the players that the season is still young — it’s early October and only their second full match of the season. But he wants them to remember that every game brings them closer to the championships.  With that, it’s time for their warm-up. Fifteen or so students pull their equipment out of their bags

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