School districts across the state are still struggling to determine the best method to both educate and protect our students in a post-pandemic society. Some schools are going with a “play it safe” approach, continuing with an all-remote learning method for the first few weeks of the new school years. Other districts are opting for a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning, hoping that the balance will meet both the healthy and social interaction needs of students who miss their classrooms.
Fairfield County school district officials announced last week that the current plan for students will be to start the 2020-2021 school year off working part-time in the classroom and part-time remote learning from home. According to an article in Patch, elementary school students will be spending close to half of their instruction time in class, while middle and high school age students will spend two to three days depending on their schedule. If all goes well by September 25, the school district plans to reevaluate the option of full-time classroom learning.
With back-to-school only a few weeks away, it’s important for Connecticut parents to start preparing students of all ages for the many changes that the upcoming school year may bring. These are just a few of the topics parents can use to start the conversation about staying healthy and safe, regardless of which model of learning their children will be participating in this fall.
COVID-19 School Models
Connecticut school districts have gone back and forth since May 2020 regarding how much exposure is safe for students this school year. While it’s still unclear as to which methods will prove most effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19, knowing the basics of how each model works can help you prepare your students for which safety practices they need to concentrate on the most.
Schools following the in-person reopening model will be allowing students to return to school for the traditional five-day week in the classroom. This model has become popular among small districts and some private schools, where class sizes are kept at a minimum, and there is typically only one teacher per grade level. Schools choosing to go with only in-person classes at this time are typically choosing to reduce class sizes even smaller and eliminate the traveling of students to specialty classrooms.
Hybrid schooling has gained popularity in a number of districts who believe in the importance of both in-person and online learning. Students in this model will attend school two to three days a week with a small class, and continue the remainder of the week’s lessons at home remotely.
Cohort learning involves assigning a small group of students to one teacher who remains together as a class unit throughout the entire school year. This method aims to limit exposure to students and teachers to a small setting as opposed to large groups of students throughout the day. Some schools are utilizing this method in conjunction with the hybrid model, setting up cohorts of students in school on assigned days and gathering the same group of children in a home setting on remote learning days.
Schools that are continuing the all-remote model of learning will require teachers to distribute work and lessons via online sources or packets of information handed out to families prior to the beginning of classes. Several schools are adopting this model temporarily for the first month of school to give teachers and staff more time to adjust to the new norm of post-pandemic learning. Parents who prefer their children to participate in remote learning as opposed to returning to in-person class can apply for Voluntary Remote Learning directly through their school district. According to the Connecticut State Department of Education (C.S.D.E), school districts must provide the opportunity for voluntary remote learning and develop models for families interested in using this option.
Despite some confusion, remote learning and homeschooling are not the same models of learning. Parents who are officially choosing to homeschool are not upheld to the curriculums chosen by the district, or able to access the remote learning options provided. Homeschool can involve a range of at-home and community activities, online curriculums, and multi-media sources that are chosen by the parents and guardians as opposed to assigned by a teacher. Parents who are interested in homeschooling must follow the Connecticut Homeschooling Laws to ensure they are meeting the requirements.
Four Stages of COVID-19 Spread
The unpredictability of COVID-19 may require school districts to change learning models weeks or even months after the start of the school year. According to the C.S.D.E.’s Adapt, Advance, Achieve initiative, schools will be expected make class determinations based on the following statewide trends of virus activity:
- High COVID Spread– Full Remote Learning
- Moderate Spread– Hybrid Model
- Minimal Spread– Full In-Person with heightened Health and Safety Protocols
- Contained/Vaccine– Full In-Person
How To Prepare for School In Connecticut
The type of learning model your school is offering this year will determine the daily safety practices your children are expected to follow. However, parents participating in all learning models are advised to educate their children on how they can best reduce the spread of COVID-19 to others in their community.
The C.S.D.E. has issued new safety guidelines for all schools to follow in Connecticut to help protect students and teachers. In accordance with these recommendations, these are the topics parents should be addressing with their children before classes begin:
- Screenings: Parents and students should keep a close eye on their health to help avoid unnecessary exposure to others. If a child has a fever or feels unwell, keep them home from school to protect the health of others in the school environment. Teach your family how to identify the signs of COVID-19 as defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) to ensure you are staying on top of your health.
- Masks: As stated in the current guidelines, students who attend in-person classes are expected to wear masks and face coverings in school that completely cover the nose and mouth while inside of the building. Students who possess a doctor’s note exempting them from this rule may still be allowed to attend. Check with your school directly before classes begin to clarify the final mask policy.
- Social Distancing: Review with your children the importance of social distancing while in school and on the bus. Being in a familiar environment with friends can cause children to revert to their typical methods of engaging with peers. Here’s how you can practice at home.
- Hand Washing and Hand Sanitizer: Schools are encouraged to practice frequent hand washing after and before activities. Hand sanitizers will also be provided in classrooms as a method of reducing the spread of the virus. Parents can review how to properly hand wash and use hand sanitizers before children begin these practices again in school. Young children who are not mature enough to dispense hand sanitizer should not be given these items to bring to school. Hand sanitizer products can be dangerous when ingested or used in excess.
- Transportation: Busses still plan to operate close to capacity with heightened health and safety protocols, including the use of masks and face coverings onboard. Busses with younger students are expected to have monitors to help encourage safe behaviors. Confirm your child’s bus route prior to the first day of in-person class and review the importance of following the new and old safety rules of riding on a bus to school, including using seatbelts (if available), keeping face masks on, sitting down when the bus is moving, and reducing distractions for the driver.
- Good Health Habits: Educating children on proper hygiene and health practices is more critical than ever as we continue to work together to keep our communities safe. Remind your child to always cover their face when sneezing or coughing, and to wash their hands often to reduce the spread of germs.
- Social-Emotional Needs: Returning to school post-pandemic is bound to have a social-emotional impact on our children in more ways than one. Parents who are concerned with their child’s social-emotional wellbeing should keep in close communication with teachers and staff for suggestions on how to address your child’s needs. For more information on positive mental health practices, contact the Connecticut Department of Health for resources in your area.
As safety and health advocates, our team at Jacobs & Wallace will continue to keep you updated on important changes and news covering schools reopening in Connecticut. We wish all families across the state a safe and happy start to the new school year!
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