HARTFORD — As many school districts finalize school reopening plans, the Connecticut Education Association released its own plans on Monday, July 20, stressing delaying school openings, staggered schedules and more distance learning.

The Connecticut Education Association, the largest school union in the state, is an affiliate of the National Education Association. CEA membership includes public school teachers from grades kindergarten through 12.

The main priorities in the CEA’s plans are “equitable access to critical safety protections and the education resources and tools for meaningful learning.”

CEA plans, which cite six recommended requirements for reopening, insist schools not be opened if the Center of Disease Control and public health/safety standards are not met.

The six steps include: delay opening of school if CDC and public health/safety requirements for schools cannot be met; guaranteed funding for Covid-related expenses will be provided by the state so all districts can meet CDC and public health/safety requirements; recognize and address risks for students/teachers/staff in school during a pandemic; understand that moving the economy forward is dependent on safety in schools and reopening of them; allow schools to begin school year through distance/remote learning if CDC and health/safety requirements are not met; and institute testing for all students, teachers and staff who return to school once a week and institute contact tracing protocols.

The CEA said the “health and safety of students, educators and communities should not be sacrificed in order to get students back into the classroom,” noting the state’s plans for full-time return raises questions about “maintaining the safety of everyone in school communities during a pandemic that is not fully under control.”

Area districts have different school opening dates depending on resources available and based on the Covid numbers within a region. The Oxford school district will start September 8; Region 15 students will be back in classrooms on September 1 and Region 12 plans to open schools on August 31.

The state Department of Education has not released any responses to the CEA’s proposed plans nor newer updates since June 29. In the meantime all Connecticut school districts were to submit their own three-phase plans to the state by July 24, outlining what in-classroom and distancing learning would look like.

CEA said its reopening plan prioritizes long-term strategies for student learning and education equity, which would require the state to provide funding.

“Failing to fund our future means we will see greater inequities across our districts and jeopardize the health and well being of communities throughout the state,” a CEA news release said.

CEA officials said the state needs to enhance its plans for remote learning especially for all at-risk students and teachers. The current state Department of Education plans to reopen require local schools “to shoulder the burden of implementing and paying for Covid-related costs including PPE equipment,” CEA said.

The state Department of Education’s June 29 plan, “Adapt, Advance, Achieve: Connecticut’s Plan to Learn and Grow Together,” provides a roadmap for school districts, according to Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona.

“The model will be supported with more intensive mitigation strategies and specific monitoring, containment and class cancellation plans,” according to a June 29 DOE news release.

“Healthy schools translate to healthy communities and the safety of our students, educators and schools personnel remains the primary focus as we implement this plan,” said Mr. Cardona. “Balancing the reopening of schools will require us to be flexible and prepare to adjust as needed.

“After consulting extensively with public health officials and our school communities, the evidence is clear that having students physically present in schools greatly improves outcomes and our ability to provide for their academic and non-academic needs.”

The CEA’s news release cited Dr. Kevin Dieckhaus, chief of infection diseases at the University of Connecticut, who expressed concerns about the virus re-emerging. He explained young people play a key role in spreading the virus.

The CEA reopening document, which could be found online, also provides resources of studies and input from doctors regarding concerns on school reopenings.

The “Adapt, Advance, Achieve: Connecticut’s Plan to Learn and Grow Together” is available online. It was created with input from students, teachers, parents, principals, superintendents and other education stakeholders, according to the June 29 news release.

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