School superintendents around the state today began the process of understanding the governor’s recommended return to school guidelines.
On Thursday, Governor Lamont along with Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona provided recommendations. Among them, masks would be required of students and social distancing incorporated. Temperature and COVID-19 testing will not.
“The initial reaction is, wow we have a lot of work to do,” said Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools.
Torres-Rodriguez says her first step is to sit down with Hartford Schools' planning committee to prepare but is waiting for the governor’s more detailed guidance to be released Monday.
“I’m looking forward to diving deep into the extended guidance that is going to be out next week and then filtering it to identify how that’s going to impact the context here,” she said.
The state also recommended students should stay in one classroom with teachers switching rooms. Food could be eaten in classrooms instead of cafeterias and dismissals would be staggered.
Using these guidelines, school systems will be allowed to coordinate their own plans.
"We already have a committee, several committees that are working on a reopening plan and this helped us kind of define our direction,” said Dr. Verna Ruffin, superintendent of Waterbury Public Schools.
Waterbury and Hartford both say they are targeting mid-July to have a more definitive plan for what the fall could look like, which is no small task considering all the factors involved, including the possibility of having to shut down again.
“We are anticipating that we’re going to have to shut down potentially again and so it’s not one. It’s not two. But potentially a third plan that we have to develop in the next four to six weeks,” explained Torres-Rodriguez.
Hartford has sent out surveys to families looking for their input as well. They, like Waterbury, said they want families to know their opinions matter.
"I want them to know that safety and the health of their children and our teachers and staff is our priority,” said Ruffin.
Bus Companies Preparing For Fall
The estimated number of school buses operating in Connecticut each school year is about 8,000. With the governor’s recommended education plan, each of those could be running at near capacity this fall.
“We think that the plan has a very good chance of success because we’re gonna be able to get kids to school on a fairly normal basis,” said President of DATTCO Donald DeVivo, one of the state’s largest school bus operations.
Although busses will be allowed to run at near capacity, which could be up to 83 passengers, DeVivo anticipates some parents will elect to drive their kids to school, which would likely lower the passenger count.
DeVivo supports the governor’s plan but knows much work needs to be done before September.
“We’re going to have to train our drivers and we’re going to have to invest in masks and PPE,” explained DeVivo.
According to the plan, all students and drivers must wear masks and thorough cleaning measures will have to be implemented.
“We’ve got several options. We’ve already rolled that our on our motor coach fleet. We’re using electrostatic cleaners,” added DeVivo.
Before the school shutdown, DeVivo says DATTCO was already thoroughly wiping down seats before and after each school day. With whatever new protocols are in place, he said they’ll be ready.
“We’ve always been all about safety,” he said. “This is just a different kind of safety.”