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Plainfield Schools begin hybrid model as regional infections rise

State reports 5,000 distance learning students haven't attended a day of classes.

PLAINFIELD, Connecticut — Across the state, 5,000 students who chose distance learning have fallen through the cracks and off the grid. They haven’t logged on for a single day of school. That's according to publicly available data reported by the state Department of Education. And while the number of 5,000 students is concerning, that’s a drastic improvement from the spring when more than 125,000 students never logged on. 

In Plainfield, Monday was the first day of the hybrid model. Except for kindergarten and pre-k, Plainfield was doing only distance learning until now.

State Sen. Douglas McCrory, the Co-Chair of the legislature's Education Committee says the 5,000 students who've been absent, "tells us we’ve got some work to do." The absenteeism is despite the state handing out more than 140,000 laptops. "The technology is there for the most part," said McCrory. "However there are some communities. I’ll say for Hartford. Just because you have the laptop and the device, you still need to have that connection and if the entire city is not wired for WiFi they although the kid has the tools they don’t have the internet connection."

From the state to the local level. Plainfield is part of a cluster of communities in the east central part of the state seeing a COVID spike. Superintendent Kenneth DiPietro said, "There may be 40 children that do not have the adequate kind of hotspot or access to the internet, so we have to give them paper materials." DiPietro says they are still waiting on a shipment of chrome books but have handed out WiFi hotspots. Technology and connectivity aren’t the only problem. "We’re having difficulty communicating to the parents that the children are home, but they are not logging on and the parents will say well I’m not there to watch them they told me they were there. But they weren’t there. So we are struggling, we’ve actually made home visits."

In Wallingford, they have about 1,300 students learning remote. They are working to track down eight kids who haven’t logged on. Superintendent Dr. Salvatore Menzo said, "We’re looking at having those students come back in person. So, having an inverse conversation with those families because if it’s not working on a voluntary distance learning way, we have a responsibility for an equitable opportunity for education."

And despite an increased prevalence of COVID in the community, both Plainfield and Wallingford told me the same thing. They aren’t seeing transmission within the school.

So, the year marches on, with intense substitute shortages. As for Plainfield, you might be wondering why they started the year doing distance learning. Was it because of COVID? Not exactly. The superintendent says dozens of his teachers chose distance learning for their own kids, causing childcare issues. So, the town set up a dedicated daycare at the recreation center.

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