Despite the social distancing restrictions now in place due to COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to communicate with your elected officials, at the local, state, and federal levels. During a tele-town hall yesterday with Congresswoman Jahana Hayes and constituents, Senator Chris Murphy reinforced this message saying, “Everything that Jahana and I do we do on orders from you.” He encouraged Connecticut residents to email, call, or write their senators and representatives, as well as take part in virtual meetings.
Constituents asked questions on a number of issues related to the current health crisis, and several questions involved public education.
“We have seen so many of the systemic cracks in our education system,” Hayes said, explaining that some districts were able to quickly make the leap to online learning while others are just recently reaching their students through online platforms.
“Our teachers, many of whom have never been trained on using digital classrooms, are now expected to take a computer and teach a kindergarten class,” Hayes said.
“We’re so fortunate to have Jahana in our delegation to make sure we understand about the real trauma that lots of students, teachers, and parents are going through,” Murphy said.
He added, “Jahana and I are some of the few young parents in Congress—we both have young children in school. I work ever day at the dining room table across from my second grader. We’re letting our colleagues know how sensitive we need to be to the needs of our students.”
“This was an abrupt ending to the school year,” Hayes said. “Students didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, teachers didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, and that was traumatic.”
In response to a question about meeting the needs of students with special needs Murphy said, “This is a silent crises right now. You have millions of kids with learning disabilities who are home, can’t get the services they need, and there’s great uncertainty right now.”
“This is something that is near and dear to me,” said Hayes. “I think this is an opportunity to see that communities can’t serve these students and meet their needs without some help from the federal government.”
She continued, “Another thing this pandemic has revealed, but that I’ve been dealing why my whole career, is the need to fund IDEA. We haven’t been able to afford to give teachers and kids the supports they need in the classroom. Many of our kids are going to be coming out of the most traumatic experiences of their lives. It‘s going to be a big deal. And teachers and schools need to be prepared to support these students.”
Yesterday, Senator Murphy and republican Senator Bill Cassidy from Louisiana released a set of Bipartisan Principles for Supporting Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 National Emergency that they forwarded in a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
These principles include the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education through providing equitable services to students with disabilities throughout closures and once schools reopen, communicating current flexibilities to states and districts in a clear and timely manner, and that Congress must provide necessary supplemental funding to states and school districts so that they can maintain learning for students with disabilities as well as provide additional services when schools reopen.
“When kids with disabilities come back to the classroom they will need to do more catch-up than other kids,” Murphy said.
Closing the tele-town hall, Hayes told residents, “We will get through this, but until then it’s going to require us taking care of each other.”