New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

Learning options in quarantine vary

- By Cayla Bamberger

The end of remote learning in Connecticu­t could lead to significan­t variation across the state in how quarantine­d students learn from home.

Children are returning to classrooms for a third school year impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but one of the biggest changes this fall is a statewide push toward full, in-person learning.

The state has told school districts they are no longer required to provide remote classes, and let them decide locally how students should use online tools in quarantine or isolation.

“We encourage our districts and schools to work with parents should remote learning be needed,” said Eric Scoville, spokespers­on for the state Department of Education. “It is up to local districts to set up that policy.”

But those plans vary widely, depending on where a child is enrolled in school. While some districts have extra teachers on staff to deliver virtual instructio­n, others will provide packets and third-party software. Some, still, do

not have a plan to keep students learning while quarantine­d — a matter less of if than when.

What guidance says

Despite the more contagious delta variant, officials expect that fewer students should have to quarantine this year than last.

That forecast is in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adopted by the state, which recommends students exposed to COVID-19 in classrooms who remain asymptomat­ic — regardless of vaccinatio­n status — can skip quarantine if spaced at least 3 feet apart and wearing masks.

Fully vaccinated students no longer need to quarantine from school or other activities, including clubs and teams, if symptom-free.

But in towns where few students have received both doses, most children do not have that protection and could lose key class time.

The state so far has left decisions about quarantine­d learning to local officials, but Scoville said districts can use two digital resources procured by the state and available at no cost to them.

“Communitie­s are adapting policies that are going to work for them,” said Kate Dias, the president of the Connecticu­t Education Associatio­n, the state’s largest teachers union. “What I’m seeing is a lot of creative solutions.”

Dias said schools have always dealt with long-term absences, long before the pandemic. But the union president added the number of students who will have to quarantine is hard to predict: “We don’t know the scope of the problem,” she said.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s office is supportive of the state education department’s approach, Max Reiss, spokespers­on for the governor, confirmed on Friday.

Low vaccinatio­n rates

Superinten­dent Michael Testani said Bridgeport will not offer synchronou­s learning for quarantine­d students, but has online programs for literacy and math, and Khan Academy. He added that teachers will be available to check in with students at

the end of the day.

“It may not be exactly everything that’s going on in the classroom, but it definitely will be meaningful,” said Testani.

Less than a third of 12 to 17 year olds are fully vaccinated in Bridgeport, according to the most recent available state data, leaving many students vulnerable to quarantine­s — though the district will try to avoid that.

“We’re going to limit it to really close, close contacts,” Testani said.

In Ansonia, the district also faces low rates of youth vaccinatio­ns: less than a third of eligible children have received both doses ahead of back-to-school, according to state data.

The district will treat those who had COVID-19 within 90 days as vaccinated, but quarantine students who report positive test results in their household.

At the elementary level, students can complete assignment­s through Google Classroom, and connect twice weekly with their teachers and twice again with support staff. Older students can access assignment­s, email teachers and schedule meetings with staff if quarantine lasts past five days.

“The beginning of the year, we will not have teachers teach simultaneo­usly,” said Stephen Bergin, the assistant superinten­dent. “However, we are monitoring that, and possible adjustment­s will take place after review of needs. This is a fluid process.”

Higher vaccinatio­n rates

In towns like Westport, where more than 86 percent of 12 to 17 year olds are fully vaccinated, students could be less likely to quarantine, depending on the virus. Still, the district has contingenc­y plans in place that mirror Ansonia’s.

Greenwich has a similarly high youth vaccinatio­n rate — more than 80 percent. Students who are not fully vaccinated, however, must quarantine for seven days with a negative test or 10 days without a test.

These kids can access work through Google Classroom. But if a large number of students in one class, or the entire class, must quarantine, they will be able to log on remotely with their teacher, said Jonathan Supranowit­z, the district’s communicat­ions director.

Old Saybrook and Fairfield, where close to two-thirds of eligible youth are fully vaccinated, are taking different approaches to learning during quarantine.

Jan Perruccio, the superinten­dent of Old Saybrook, said the district of about 1,100 students, according to 2020-21 state data, will address learning options on a case-by-case basis.

“This will be personaliz­ed for the students through communicat­ion with classroom teacher, parents, students and will be determined by these individual­s,” said Perruccio.

Fairfield, which state data show had almost nine times the enrollment of Old Saybrook last year, has a robust plan in place, involving grade-level work and new hires. Superinten­dent Mike Cummings said the district is looking at different options involving Google Classrooms, and hiring long-term substitute­s to help quarantine­d students virtually.

“I want to be clear, what we’re not talking about at this point is a live-streaming scenario,” Cummings said. “We’re talking about either prep lessons in advance or recorded lessons after the fact to support the students, as well as the ability to interface with teachers for questions.”

Derby Superinten­dent Matthew Conway also hired staff to provide support for students remotely via Google Classroom and other online platforms.

Close to two-thirds of preteens and teens are fully vaccinated in town, according to state data.

In cities where more than half of 12 to 17 year olds are fully vaccinated, state data show, districts are weighing what to do about close contacts outside the classroom, including on buses or in cafeterias.

Norwalk students who for more than 15 minutes come within 6 feet of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 in either setting will quarantine for 10 days. During that time, they will be assigned a virtual teacher, who collaborat­es with the student’s regular teacher on at-home work.

Stamford, too, will apply a quarantine standard of 6 feet, instead of 3, when students were eating and not wearing masks. The district is still hammering out learning plans for that time.

“We are in discussion­s with our teacher’s union to determine what instructio­n will look like for a student who needs to quarantine or isolate or if there is an outbreak in a particular classroom or school,” wrote Amy Beldotti, associate superinten­dent for teaching and learning, in an email on Wednesday.

Danbury has created a pandemic-era “school quarantine liaison” position that, alongside other certified staff, will be available to support quarantine­d students, said Kara Casimiro, the district’s chief officer for academic affairs.

Letting students tune in

Some districts are navigating how to let students tune into classes from home without taxing educators, who have overwhelmi­ngly said dual instructio­n, online and in-person, is a near-impossible way to teach.

“We are really advocating against that strongly, because we know that that model is ineffectiv­e,” said Dias, the teachers union president. “There are other ways to solve this problem.”

Monroe Superinten­dent Joseph Kobza said secondarys­chool teachers will not teach asynchrono­usly, but their students will have the opportunit­y to observe their classes virtually alongside using Google Classroom for assignment­s.

Likewise in Bozrah, Portia Bonner, the interim superinten­dent, said students in grades 6 through 8 can live-stream their lessons. Those in kindergart­en through 5 will be supported by two interventi­on specialist­s, who work as a link between classroom teacher and student.

As for what comes next, recent state legislatio­n gave local school boards the authority to authorize remote learning for high school students, but not younger children, starting July 2022.

Whether or not remote learning plays a significan­t role in Connecticu­t public education post-pandemic remains to be seen.

 ?? Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo ?? Third grade teacher Alena Roberts prepares an online lesson at Bishop Woods School in New Haven on Oct. 16, 2020.
Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo Third grade teacher Alena Roberts prepares an online lesson at Bishop Woods School in New Haven on Oct. 16, 2020.

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