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Getting students back in school full-time is a top priority

The goal of all school districts throughout the area should be to get students back in classrooms full-time this spring, and the sooner the better.

It will take time to assess how much academic damage has been caused by the pandemic that caused schools to largely resort to remote learning last school year. This school year, dealing with COVID-19 has meant most students learning in a hybrid model, some days in school and some days learning from home. Adding to the disruptions have been periodic shutdowns, with teaching going again to full remote learning after viral outbreaks threatened to spread or resulted in staffing shortages.

There is no question many students have fallen behind in the learning they would have been expected to achieve in normal times. And there is also no question that poorer and inner-city students, who have disadvantages even in the best of times, have again suffered greater academic damage than their more affluent suburban neighbors.

Standardized testing can assess the consequences of missed instructional time. Harder to measure is the harm caused by lost socialization.

Getting students back in classrooms is not only important for their benefit, but for society generally. When children have to be home it disrupts the working schedules of parents, with ripple effects throughout the economy.

Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has led to the conclusion that children, in school, are not major spreaders of the coronavirus if appropriate steps are taken — mask wearing, separation, frequent handwashing, and emphasizing children should remain home if feeling at all ill.

Teachers are, understandably, apprehensive about returning to full-time learning and thereby increased in-school exposure potential. The Connecticut Education Association is pushing for vaccination of teachers as a requirement for expanded in-classroom instruction. CEA wants the vaccinations now.

We don’t agree that a gradual return to more in-school teaching must await universal teacher vaccination opportunities. We note that the Lyme-Old Lyme school district has conducted full in-person learning since the start of the school year without a significant outbreak.

That being said, Gov. Ned Lamont should make vaccination of teachers a priority as the state moves to the next phase of vaccinations. Following CDC guidance, the administration has made the right call in giving health care workers, those living in nursing homes, and senior citizens the earliest available doses. Lamont is estimating teacher vaccinations could begin by mid-March. That is a timetable the state needs to meet if at all possible. Sooner would be better.

It is encouraging that local school systems and the boards of education governing them recognize the importance of getting students back in the classrooms. North Stonington, Norwich, Waterford, East Lyme, Preston and Ledyard are among the school districts working on plans for more in-person learning as spring approaches.

In Stonington, in contrast, Superintendent of Schools Van Riley is recommending using a hybrid model through the end of the school year. He sees the challenges of returning to full in-school learning as too difficult and expensive.

The Board of Education should push back on that recommendation. In fact, a group of Stonington parents is doing just that, sending the message to their elected representatives that they want their children back in school full-time.

So do we.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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