Stamford Advocate

BACK TO SCHOOL: What we know so far as new year nears

- By Cayla Bamberger

Many of Connecticu­t’s grade-school students are poised to return to school buildings later this month, but families and teachers across the state still have questions about what a fall reopening may look like.

The state is expected to release finalized written guidance soon, but in the meantime, many educators have turned to interim recommenda­tions from the state Department of Education and state Department of Public Health, alongside recent changes to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. Here’s what we know – and what we still don’t know – about statewide guidance for K-12 schools this fall.

When and where are masks required?

The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have both recommende­d that students wear masks in K-12 schools to mitigate the spread of the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19.

The guidance is regardless of vaccinatio­n status. Masks are currently required in K-12 schools, according to Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order dated Aug. 5. The order remains in effect through Sept. 30, unless modified or terminated before then. Students and staff are also required to wear masks on public transporta­tion, including school buses, under federal guidelines. Several cities and towns have also reinstated indoor mask mandates that apply to at least public buildings.

Will remote learning be an option in my school district?

The state education department said in interim guidance that its “overarchin­g goal” is full-time, inperson learning throughout the school year. Officials announced in April that public schools are no longer required to offer remote learning this fall, leaving many districts to mull over whether to continue providing the option. A district may decide to provide online classes in case of quarantine­s or another surge in COVID-19 cases. The delta variant and age restrictio­ns on the COVID-19 vaccines have led some parents and educators to demand remote options, and other districts to consider offering them.

Do students and teachers have to social distance?

The state is encouragin­g three feet of physical distance in classrooms, but not at the expense of in-person learning when spreading out isn’t possible. Interim guidance asks schools to implement distancing “to the extent practical,” which Christophe­r Boyle, a spokespers­on for the Department of Public Health, confirmed should be one of several mitigation strategies.

Will my school district require the COVID-19 vaccine?

The state education and public health department­s have called vaccinatio­n the “No. 1 prevention strategy” available to school districts, but stopped short of mandating the shots, authorized for emergency use, for teachers and students. Full U.S. Food and Drug Administra­tion approval for the COVID-19 vaccines is expected within the next few weeks to months.

The vaccine will likely be approved first for people ages 16 and up for Pfizer and 18 and up for Moderna – the age groups tested in the original emergency use authorizat­ion. There have not been vaccines approved for those under the age of 12, although health experts have said they expect that could happen this fall.

How will quarantine­s work in the event of a COVID-19 exposure?

Interim state guidance from July said students seated three or more feet from peers diagnosed with COVID-19 do not need to quarantine if they were wearing masks and are asymptomat­ic. The state specified that the recommenda­tion only applies to exposures between students. The education and public health department­s also encouraged schools to limit quarantine­s to individual close contacts, rather than full classrooms, when possible. However, without widespread remote learning, how some students will continue to learn while quarantine­d remains unclear.

How will COVID-19 testing work?

The education and public health department­s announced this summer that they will prioritize voluntary testing for certain groups, particular­ly kindergart­eners through sixth graders and unvaccinat­ed older students and staff. At the time, they recommende­d offering weekly pooled testing through partners, too.

How will my building and facilities be cleaned and sanitized?

Following the CDC’s guidance that contaminat­ed surfaces are not a significan­t risk for transmissi­on, the agency recommende­d routine daily cleaning schools and buses, and disinfecti­ng restrooms and other known exposure areas. The state interim guidance also read that continuous spot disinfecti­on of hightouch surfaces is no longer necessary.

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