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Safety Is Top Priority as Connecticut Plans Future Reopening of Schools

CEA Executive Director Don Williams and AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel are among members of the Reopen CT Advisory Group who participated in a roundtable today about plans to reopen schools.

At a virtual education roundtable meeting of Governor Ned Lamont’s Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group, public health officials and education stakeholders discussed issues surrounding school reopening plans. While school buildings will remain closed through the end of the school year, questions centered on what the summer and fall will look like.

Education Commissioner Dr. Miguel Cardona emphasized that a safe reopening of schools in the fall is the state’s chief priority, noting that if health and safety are not maintained, Connecticut could face a new wave of school closings.

“Safety must be our priority moving forward—for years to come,” he said.

CEA Executive Director Donald Williams, who also participated in the roundtable, echoed Dr. Cardona’s sentiments.

“We need to get this right from a health and safety point of view,” said Williams. “Teachers miss being in their classrooms, and they miss their students terribly. They want to get back and recreate those connections with students, but they don’t want schools to become the new centers for spreading the virus. We are deeply concerned that we have proper protocols in place for a safe return to our school buildings—including COVID testing, if possible, in the fall.”

Williams noted that careful planning and consideration must be given to ways of ensuring appropriate distancing measures everywhere from school buses to hallways and classrooms. He pointed out that not only are medically vulnerable adults and children at risk of becoming ill from the virus, but new evidence shows that healthy children—succumbing to cardiac issues and inflammation—are not as immune to its effects as was previously thought.

Challenges persist

In addition to ensuring school safety, challenges ahead will include mitigating against learning loss, isolation, and social-emotional issues resulting from the pandemic.

Praising educators for quickly adapting to a new teaching environment, Cardona said, “Teachers overnight had to change how they do business and have done miraculous work in connecting with their students.”

Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, agreed, noting the challenge of reaching and engaging all children, particularly those with special needs and circumstances.

“Teachers and school social workers are working incredibly hard,” said Rabinowitz, who—along with other roundtable participants—acknowledged the limitations of distance learning and the need to remediate against learning loss and trauma that have resulted from the health crisis.

Access to appropriate technology and connectivity, addressing student learning gaps, and meeting students’ social-emotional needs are high priorities for his agency and the state, said Cardona, adding that gaps in educational equity and access not only existed prior to the global pandemic but were created or exacerbated as a result of the pandemic.

To stem the learning loss and address trauma caused or made worse by COVID-19 and school closures, AFT-CT President Jan Hochadel pointed to the need for strong budgets, well-resourced schools, and teacher input.

“Will officials fund our future?” Hochadel asked, stressing that educators must be part of the conversation and the solution.

The governor’s advisory group will continue to meet, address questions, and formulate recommendations for the reopening of the state and its public schools.

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