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