HAMDEN — While most learning has gone remote under a plan the Hamden Board of Education approved earlier this month, Superintendent of Schools Jody Goeler said certain specialized programs will be able to continue under the hybrid model.
Programs that will incorporate in-person learning include the pre-K special education program at the Alice Peck Learning Center and several intensive support programs in grades K-8, according to Goeler.
“The decision to provide in-building services was based both on student need and availability of appropriately trained and certified staff,” he said in a message to a reporter Monday. “The availability of staff may impact our ability to continue these programs, and perhaps expand other services, through the duration of the closure.”
With the switch to remote learning effective Nov. 23, most students will not resume in-person classes until at least Jan. 19, 2021.
Administrators began to mull abandoning the hybrid model the district had adopted as schools struggled to stay open amid staffing shortages related to COVID-19.
When the Board of Education broached the topic at a Nov. 10 meeting, it received dozens of public comments, most from community members worried about the effect a fully remote learning model would have on students and families.
Some worried about the consequences for children in specialized programs.
“As a parent of a 9 year old child that is currently thriving with the way school is working in hybrid, and my child also has an [Individualized Education Plan], I would like to say that children of different educational needs in our special education program should have the ability to remain in person for as long as possible,” one individual, identified as parent Myla Wilson, wrote in a public comment.
Resident Laura Davidson, who identified herself as a clinical social worker, suggested remote learning would be “particularly harmful to the most vulnerable children,” including “exceptional learners … who need support.”
On the other hand, staff in special education programs expressed concern over the risk of contacting COVID-19 if their classrooms were to continue in-person learning amid spiking infection rates.
“Many of the students in our program aren’t able to wear masks properly, have limited understanding of social distancing and have emerging hygiene skills,” one comment, signed by “the [Instructional Intervention Center] Special Education Teachers,” read. “Our students are also unable to communicate when they don’t feel well.”
The group contended suspending a holiday closure that would allow “families to quarantine after potential family interactions” would remove a protection for IIC employees and students.
But Goeler said the district has not identified any COVID-19 spread within the schools themselves, adding that the closure was due to challenges with staffing.
While schools have done an “outstanding” job limiting the spread of the virus by following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Goeler said, “the issue is our communities can’t say the same thing.”
When staff members are exposed to the virus outside of the school setting, Goeler noted, they have to self-isolate.
Increased spread also has strained officials’ ability to effectively perform contact tracing, which is “a huge enterprise,” according to Goeler.
As for students following guidelines, Goeler feels the district has effectively instructed them on how to do so, he said, adding that a lack of spread in schools should be indicative of the level of compliance.