August 8, 2020
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R4 School District Submits Reopening Plans for 2020–’21 School Year

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The 2020–’21 school year is fast approaching and the decision as to whether students return to in-person classes, a hybrid model, or a full distance learning model will be made on a local level.

Whether Governor Ned Lamont would make the decision, as he did in early March, was unclear until the July 27 governor’s press briefing.

“At this point, we’re recognizing that the districts have to feel comfortable with the plans that they have to ensure health and safety, so ultimately, once we’re closer to the school year starting, [and] we know where the health data is, districts will have to feel comfortable…They will be deciding,” said Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona at the briefing.

“I think it’s a very good decision that the governor is allowing local control over whether the schools should open or not,” said State Senator Norman Needleman (D-33), who is also Essex first selectman, by text on July 28. “Every school is different; every situation is different, and I think that it’s best for local communities to make those decisions.”

The state required that all school districts submit a plan for all three scenarios by July 24, based on risk levels of COVID-19 transmission.

Plans for the Region 4 (R4) school district system were developed by reopening committees composed of school staff, building and district administrators, parents, Board of Education (BOE) representatives, and community members.

“It is essential for us to keep in mind that the situation with COVID-19 remains dynamic and ever-changing,” Superintendent of Schools Brian White stated in a letter to parents and staff on July 24. “We are prepared to adapt our approach as necessary.”

The need for flexibility is understood at the state level, as well.

“We also have to communicate that these plans are fluid,” Cardona said on July 27. “That just because it was turned in on Friday doesn’t mean that that’s the plan that is going to start on day one. It’s really important that the plans evolve with our learning of what the data is, but also how to promote health and safety.”

Cardona also indicated that parents would have the final say in whether their children would learn at home.

“A parent will always have the choice to keep their children at remote learning, especially at the beginning of the school year,” Cardona said on July 27.

For R4 parents who wish to have their children learn at home, “distance learning will be provided to all students who do not attend [in-person] school this fall. Teachers and staff will work to support individual students and families as needed,” said White by email on July 30.

Since the shut-down of schools this spring, the R4 administrative team has been analyzing “the needs of our system,” said White.

All parents, teachers, and staff were recently surveyed regarding the 2020–’21 school year. A second survey of parents will be conducted the first week of August.

Data from these surveys, as well as public input at the R4 BOE meeting on Aug. 4, will inform, in part, any changes to the school district’s plan for the upcoming school year.

“Feedback from our communities and our BOE’s will be essential in determining the approach that best suits our community,” said White.

“The governor is clearly trying to give local districts autonomy,” said State Representative Christine Palm (D-36). “It’s important to recognize that one size does not fit all.”

The R4 school district’s reopening plans for 2020 can be found on the home page of the district’s website

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