On Reopening Schools, Let’s Act Cautiously

By Aimee Berger-Girvalo

Connecticut has gone from being considered a COVID-19 “hotspot” to having one of the lowest rates of infection in the country.

By all indications, our collective participation in following the guidelines, which direct us to wear masks, keep an appropriate distance, and gather in small groups, is working. We’ve made such progress and the last thing we want is to backslide.

The state has asked each school district to plan for each of three scenarios for the upcoming school year:

  • Full reopening of schools, at 100% capacity, with a remote learning option for students;
  • Hybrid learning, that combines elements of remote learning and socially distant in-class learning;
  • Full school closure, with 100% remote learning.

We are on track to fully reopen.

Our statewide slow and steady reopening plans have been effective. Opening restaurants and other public spaces outdoors, and increasing indoor capacity have contributed to controlling the spread, while we work toward a return to the world outside our homes.

But when it comes to sending our kids back to school, we’re once again in uncharted, murky territory. Studies are now showing that kids ages 10-19 are as likely to spread the virus as adults, and without a hybrid learning option we’re sending that group of students and their teachers back to what? We really don’t know.

Who will enforce mask-wearing in our schools? What happens to kids whose parents opt to keep them home at the start of the school year to see how things go? What is the protocol when a student or staff member contracts the virus?

As a mom, the only thing I want for my kid — more than for him to get back into a classroom for meaningful face-to-face learning and peer interaction — is for him to be safe and healthy. And as someone who’s worked in Ridgefield Public Schools, the only thing I want for my former colleagues is for them to be safe and well.

That’s something so many moms and working parents I know are grappling with: We want the best for our kids in this very difficult time, but everyone is unclear on exactly what that looks like. Parents across our town and our state are united in the notion that our kids’ safety is a priority, but so is the safety of our teachers, administrators, staff and bus drivers.

In no other area have we raced to get back to “normal.” We’ve taken steady, measured steps toward returning to our new realities in work, entertainment, retail.

In reopening our schools, we have to do better. We need to account for the fact that putting our kids on busses at 100% capacity, even with masks on, isn’t the safest idea. We need to consider the potential impact on grouping kids together as outlined in the Ridgefield reopening plan in large cohorts might start off as low risk, but the situation could rapidly devolve.

When it comes to reopening schools, we need to continue the conversation and act cautiously.

Aimee Berger-Girvalo is vice-chairwoman of the Democratic Town Committee and the Democratic candidate for the 111th District seat in the state House of Representatives.