Keeping school buildings closed for the academic year “breaks my heart,” Governor Lamont said at a press conference this afternoon. However, despite the governor’s hope that students might be able to return to school for a few weeks, after hearing from superintendents, parents, and teachers, he concluded “this was no time to take that risk.”
“While this decision to cancel is not welcomed by students, parents, or educators, we know that we have to continue to look at this as a safety issue,” said Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona.
He continued, “For students listening, your school year has not ended, your teachers and district school leaders and staff are committed to supporting your learning through the remainder of the school year. While we know it’s not the same, on this Teacher Appreciation Day, I want to acknowledge all the educators who have given tirelessly to their students while tending to their own families and caring for their loved ones—thank you. We have a month left of classes. Let’s finish strong, Connecticut.”
The commissioner said that further guidance on summer school will be provided later this month, with an emphasis on those students who may have additional learning needs, particularly English learners and students with special needs. “With proper precautions, the Reopen Connecticut education subcommittee hopes to be able to provide summer school opportunities in July,” Cardona said.
He added that, for both summer school and the fall reopening of schools, a lot depends on infection trends in Connecticut and what the subcommittee learns about how to maintain a safe learning environment within a school building. “We want to open as soon as possible, but not too early where it’s unsafe.”
“This crisis is not over,” cautioned CEA President Jeff Leake, “and experts say a resurgence of the virus could occur this fall. We must use the next few months to ensure that safety procedures and protocols are in place before students, teachers, and staff re-enter the classrooms.”
To support students who need remediation, Cardona said that the State Department of Education will have online learning modules available for free for districts.
CEA Executive Director Donald Williams serves on that education subcommittee of the Reopen Connecticut task force and has been communicating CEA members questions and concerns.
Cardona said that the subcommittee is “actively planing what a safe reentry would look like, and are eager to open up our buildings once again. To do this, with the help of our RESCs, we’re getting input from thousands of students, parents, educators, and community partners. We look forward to welcoming you back in a safe way.”
Governor Lamont reiterated the commissioner’s comments saying, “Miguel is working with a great task force, and they are looking at the facts on the ground to figure out in the next month or two what the fall looks like. It’s too early to make predictions right now, but we’re going to give boards of education plenty of notice.”
“Our schools are not outfitted for social distancing, in fact they’re designed for community,” Cardona said. “We know that’s how students learn best. In fact, the tables, the chairs, the classroom designs have all promoted learning together. We’re going to make sure we take guidance from partners in the health community to make sure schools are safe for students, safe for staff. And that might mean we take a cafeteria or gymnasium, and for part of day, when they’re not in use, use them for learning spaces, or look creatively at how we use media centers.”
Funding crucial to support students in uncertain times
In response to a question from a reporter about school budgets Cardona said, “We know that at this time we need more, not less. We know that many students are experiencing trauma, so the need for social-emotional supports is great…. Education is the foundation for many communities, and we want to make sure that our students are also supported during this time.”
Governor Lamont said, as far as state funding to cities and towns, “We’re trying to work off a base of level funding as best we can, given the fact that we’re looking at the potential for a $3 billion shortfall next year. That said, were still negotiating in D.C. to see what kind of support we can get from Washington.”
Cardona said that the federal CARES act gives additional supports to address student needs, and the state will be looking at how to use those funds to best support students.
“These are unprecedented times, and they call for unprecedented responses,” said Leake. “It is critical that the state and municipalities meet their responsibility to fund the resources students need when they return to the classroom—teachers, counselors, psychologists and strong academic programs.”