Most Connecticut school districts sticking with hybrid of online and in-person learning; 133 coronavirus cases among students and staff last week

About a month into the school year, most Connecticut school districts continue to operate on a hybrid model mixing online and in-person learning, with only two districts statewide opting for fully remote education.

In an update released Thursday afternoon, the state Department of Education reported that from Sept. 21-25, nearly 60% of schools educated students with a mix of online and classroom learning, while 34% had students attending classes five days a week.

“Hybrid learning models were offered in a majority of public school district grades,” the department said. “In this model, all students attend school in-person on some but not all days and on the days when students are not in-person, instruction is provided remotely through technology or other means. The fully in-person learning model — where all students attend school in-person on all days — was offered more in the elementary grades than in the middle and high school grades.”

About 40% of districts held classes five days a week for students in pre-K through fifth grade, while slightly less than 15% of districts instructed high school students the same. About 80% of high schools used a hybrid model.

While reviewing the data Thursday during a press briefing, Gov. Ned Lamont noted that high schools are more difficult to cohort, contributing to the popularity of the hybrid model at that level. He also said the only districts operating on a fully remote model were New Haven, which began the school year that way, and Danbury, where students were shifted to remote learning after a local spike in cases.

Lamont added that last week, the state saw 133 cases of COVID-19 among students and staff. Per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, most Connecticut school districts are not offering testing for asymptomatic cases, Hartford being the exception. Reported cases typically come from students and staff who schools recommend to get tested after they show symptoms of the virus or come in contact with someone who has tested positive.

The governor continued to share concerns about transmission occurring outside of school buildings, during social gatherings and sporting activities.

“Perhaps the classroom is one of the safest places you can be,” he said.

Some school districts plan to move from hybrid models to fully in-person education by early or mid-October, should COVID-19 infection rates remain low and they have the staff and other resources to do so. In a survey conducted by the department between July and mid-August, about 26% of the 199 districts who responded said they planned to transition to five days a week of classroom education within four weeks of the start of school. However, the state noted plans were likely to change by September. A health director in New London County recently advised schools not to transition following an uptick in cases there.

Since the week of Aug. 31-Sept. 4, the overall percentage of Connecticut students engaged in fully remote learning has decreased slightly from about 36% to about 32%. But the state’s lowest-performing districts, primarily in urban areas, have seen a “substantially higher” rate of students opting for online-only classes, about 58% in the past week, the department said.

About 4% of fully-remote students remain disconnected, meaning they have not logged on a single school day during the year so far. The number of disconnected students dropped from 7,441 in the week of Sept. 8-11 to 6,071 during the week of Sept. 21-25.

Lamont said Thursday that back in the spring, 30% of students never logged on or activated their computer and credited the drop in disconnected students partly to the state’s Everybody Learns initiative, which sought to provide families in need with laptops, technology help and high-speed internet connections.

“I think we anticipated early on that there would be a fair number of students and their parents who didn’t feel comfortable going back to school,” he said of remote learning. “Is it as good as a classroom? No. But are we making the best out of the situation we’re in? I think so.”

Amanda Blanco can be reached at [email protected]

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