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During this COVID-19 spike, schools treat remote learning days like snow days

 Simsbury High School
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Simsbury High School, Simsbury Connecticut January 07, 2022

In December, Connecticut’s Department of Education released guidelines that said remote learning days don’t count as normal school days on a broad basis. That left parents, students and school administrators with lingering questions.

Not allowing remote learning through the governor’s emergency authority is the biggest change compared to the start of the pandemic, said Andy Bellach, a Fairfield County-based lawyer who represents school districts.

“The state could have remote learning count as a day of attendance at school if there’s a closure ordered by the governor or the legislature,” said Bellach.

State law requires students to get 180 days of in-person schooling a year. That was waived during Gov. Ned Lamont’s 2020 state of emergency declaration at the onset of the pandemic. His declaration expired, and now schools have been advised to treat remote days like snow days — to be made up at the end of the year after they exceed a certain number.

That means school districts can’t just decide to go remote without facing consequences.

If schools close for remote learning, those days wouldn’t count toward the state requirement. It’ll only be allowed under very specific circumstances: for students in quarantine for COVID-19, students who have certain medical conditions, or if students are living with vulnerable family members. State guidelines also don’t permit local health districts to issue an emergency declaration that would allow remote learning for all schools in a district.

Still, some schools have closed this week for reasons like staff shortages and the rise of COVID-19 cases, as reported by WFSB. State officials emphasized at a news conference Tuesday that those days must be made up to satisfy the 180-school day requirement.

“I’m really proud of the fact that the vast majority of our schools are open and doing everything they can to keep them open,” said Lamont. “I know that’s in the best interest of the kids. We did pretty well when it came to tele-learning last time around. But we also learned the hard way that learning via Zoom is not nearly what it should be when it comes to keeping your kids in the classroom, with their peers, friends and with a teacher that loves them.”

Having makeup school days doesn’t necessarily mean it will increase teachers’ workdays, according to Bellach, but there could be a financial cost. Bellach pointed out that a lot of unexpected makeup days could strain school budgets.

“I would anticipate that it would be a cost that was not anticipated at the start of this year,” she said.

Bellach said that while districts can offer remote learning in a limited capacity, it’s difficult for superintendents to make that call for a whole school. Especially when the governor has been clear that learning should be in person.