Anthony Zepperi, Staff Writer
HARTFORD — As more Connecticut school districts announced plans to halt in-person education until January, Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday acknowledged COVID-19 cases are rising in schools, but said the state aims to keep in-person education going “as long as we can.”
Lamont said local officials can “make their own mind up,” and the state does not plan on stepping in with mandated closures like it did in the spring.
“I think the schools have handled this very well. Every situation is a little bit different,” he said, noting he felt it was appropriate to have older students learning in a hybrid model of online and in-person learning, and younger students learning more in their classrooms.
“When I look at K-12, I think the high schools are more at risk than perhaps the youngest grades,” Lamont said.
Still, Lamont warned of the negative impacts online-only classes may have on children.
“There’s a real trade-off. A lot of these kids are greatly disadvantaged, not just in terms of education, but also social and emotional, being isolated for that long period of time,” Lamont said. “I think Connecticut did well having the majority of our schools open as long as we have.”
The state Thursday reported 675 new COVID-19 cases among students over the past week, 178 more than the week prior. There were 328 new staff cases, 91 more than the previous week.
Of the new cases reported among students, 231 children were attending class in person five days a week, 322 had a hybrid of online and in-person classes and 115 were learning entirely online. More than half of Connecticut school districts are operating fully in person, while about 38 percent are hybrid and about 9 percent are fully remote.
Ansonia Public Schools said they will suspend in-person classes through Jan. 18, becoming the second district in Connecticut to shift to online-only classes for the remainder of the year as coronavirus cases continue to rise across the state.
New Haven’s public schools began the year entirely online and postponed plans to return to some in-person classes as cases began to rise this fall.
But Ansonia Superintendent of Schools Joseph DiBacco wrote in a letter to families Thursday that the city, based on state data, had seen an average of 27.1 new cases per day per 100,000 residents from Oct. 18-31.
“While this number is concerning by itself, what is more concerning is that COVID numbers are increasing across the state,” DiBacco said.
DiBacco said the increase in cases across the state has led to more school staff members having to quarantine, making it harder to keep school buildings open for in-person classes.
While in-person classes are expected to resume in January, the superintendent said the district will reassess learning models “based on our 14-day rolling average and our ability to staff our buildings.”
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said he did not yet think it was necessary to end in-person education.
“We should absolutely be taking steps to make sure we have a spring school semester,” Gottlieb said. “But after Thanksgiving, could we see more schools going to a distanced model? I think we will.”