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Education Sec. Cardona talks masks, vaccines during Waterbury school tour in CT homecoming

During his visit, Cardona also reinforced the importance of in-person education.

WATERBURY, Conn. — Connecticut got a visit from the top education official in the country on Friday - a familiar face to residents who remember him as Connecticut's Education Commissioner.

After what happened with Gov. Ned Lamont in Cheshire when anti-mask parents shouted him down, officials kept this visit by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona very quiet. There were no protesters.

"It feels so good to be home," Cardona said.

"Dual language programs are the most effective," he remarked as he toured Waterbury’s brand new International Dual Language School.

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Cardona stopped in kindergarten and 1st-grade classrooms.

"Isn’t it fun to be back with friends in school," he said.

Cardona was joined by  Lamont, Rep. Jahana Hayes and other state and local educational leaders. The fun they had inside the school quickly turned serious in a news conference outside.

"We're requiring masks in Connecticut. It’s non-negotiable," Cardona said.

However, the same cannot be said about other states. As schools reopen across the country and the Delta variant spreads, some states are seeing ICUs near capacity. Some states are also clashing with the federal department of education about the legality of mask and vaccine mandates.

"We don’t have the authority to mandate masks or vaccines nor is that our intent. Our intent is to ensure that local leaders and health officials are driving the decision about safe reopening," Cardona said. "Unfortunately when politics get involved it’s sad. You see children in hospitals where they don’t have to be this is preventable."

RELATED: 'It's not surprising' | Local doctor weighs in on slowing of COVID-19 delta wave

Connecticut just released new data on COVID-19 cases for the new school year: 247 students and 58 staff have tested positive so far.

"Our infection rate is stable. We have about the lowest infection rate in the country right now," Lamont said. "There’s some seasonality to it we will have to see."

All Connecticut teachers and staff are also required to get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27.

The superintendent of Waterbury school said they are still working to find out how many of their teachers are vaccinated.

"At this time I wouldn’t tell you that I’ve gotten a lot of pushback. I believe that the teachers Union was quite pleased that it became a requirement," said Dr. Verna Ruffin.

During his visit, Cardona also reinforced the importance of in-person education. He noted that last year only about 50% of Waterbury’s more than 18,500 students attended class in person. Now it’s 100%.

FOX61 asked Cardona if he thought there should be a mandatory remote learning option for students who have immunocompromised family members.

He didn't commit to that, saying those decisions are being made at the local level.

Matt Caron is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at mcaron@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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