Connecticut public school students will return to the classroom in the fall, providing health data continues to show a decline in coronavirus cases, Gov. Ned Lamont said June 25.
The return will include mandatory face masks for students and staff, social distancing, frequent handwashing, facility cleaning, and other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Lamont and state education commissioner Miguel Cardona said.
Students will eat lunch in classrooms, and there may be smaller class sizes, which could force districts to hire more staff.
Administrators are encouraged to use auditoriums and other large spaces to optimize social distancing.
Lamont and Cardona announced plans for reopening schools but said more details would be released next week.
Local school districts will have about a month to review the details, determine what they need to do, and how to pay for it.
"We're still going to have many restrictions," Cardona said.
"It's not going to be exactly the same as it was before—I want to make that clear—but we know that getting back to the schoolhouse is not only good for students' academic, social, and emotional well-being, in many cases it is the safest and most structured place that they have."
Getting schools reopened has been a major issue for Connecticut employers, as well.
"Everyone of us said childcare was important to allow workers to go back to work," Meredith Reuben, CEO of Milford-based EBP Supply Solutions, said during a recent webinar.
As they prepare for a full reopening, local school districts are being advised to create contingency plans that include remote learning should COVID-19 cases spike.
Lamont and Cardona said school districts should also prepare alternative plans for parents not comfortable with sending their children back to school.
They are telling school officials to consider "cohorting" a class of students with one teacher throughout the day rather than having students change classrooms.
Districts are also being advised to reconfigure classrooms and use gyms, auditoriums, and other large spaces, including the outdoors, to maintain safe distancing.
Custodians will work throughout the day to clean facilities.
Cardona said some districts are considering installing Plexiglass around teachers' desks for further protection.
Lamont said he couldn't estimate what these new measures will cost taxpayers until administrators can determine exactly what they have to do.
"We don't have an infinite amount of money, but we're here to be supportive and help," he said.
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act includes about $99 million for Connecticut school districts to cover reopening costs.
Students will have to wear masks covering their nose and mouth throughout the day and on the school bus.
Teachers must also wear masks although they can be removed while teaching if maintaining a safe distance.
"Obviously, mask breaks are going to be part of the vernacular," Cardona said.
Connecticut's 530,000 public school students have been out of the classroom since March 17.