Gov. Ned Lamont and Education Commissioner Miguel A. Cardona talked about their education priorities to education leaders and advocates in August 2019. Kathleen Megan / Connecticut Mirror
Miguel Cardona, the education commissioner, listening to Gov. Ned Lamont at the daily briefing on the coronavirus emergency. mark pazniokas /

When COVID-19 closed Connecticut schools, students in affluent and predominantly white districts transitioned effectively to e-learning within days, while students in low-income, immigrant, and predominantly Black and brown districts missed weeks of educational instruction. Racism and white supremacy –manifesting in racially segregated schools in our state– have created this system of glaring inequity.

Many public schools across our state provided effective instruction amid daunting pandemic conditions; it is possible. As part of the reopening plan, the Connecticut State Department of Education must require districts to provide quality instruction, requisite technology, and daily class time with a teacher in order to ensure that students don’t continue to fall behind. For the entire fourth quarter, too many students were unable to join video sessions and lacked contact with classmates and teachers. The long-term impact of a failure to course correct this fall is incalculable and devastating to an entire generation of Connecticut’s students.

As a coalition of 25 organizations across Connecticut, we have been deeply concerned for students left behind. Our coalition made the CSDE aware of these concerns on May 1, which resulted in a town hall on May 26. Yet, the CSDE’s recently released guidelines do not meet the needs of all students. Again, the students left out are from low-income communities, immigrant communities, and predominantly Black and brown student populations.

This pandemic exacerbates the already massive access and equity gaps across Connecticut school districts in hyper-visible ways. The choices outlined for Connecticut families to feel safe are not truly choices when inequality is entrenched in our systems. When childcare is unaffordable and unavailable, the only choice is for a child to return to the school building. When personal vehicles are not accessible, using an overcrowded school bus is the only option. When the choice is between no education at all, or risking your child’s health for the sake of their education, what do you choose? The state has an opportunity to repair systemic racism by equitably reallocating resources, where the need is greatest and the threat of COVID most severe.

We publicly publish our specific recommendations to address the inequity outlined above:

  1. Prioritize the health and safety of all students AND staff. The administration’s guidelines require physical space that does not exist in all our school buildings. 
  2. Implement statewide, high-quality curricula that use effective online learning and a culturally responsive lens. We recommend a method that increases purchasing power through regional procurement or statewide access.
  3. Inclusion of a remote learning component must be fiscally feasible for all districts and be conditional upon students having reliable, high-speed internet access, necessary software, and adequate technology. (A cell phone does not qualify as adequate technology. A computer with a full keyboard and mouse does. This needs to be specified.)
  4. Professional training for teachers is necessary to implement health and safety standards along with instructional requirements that promote high quality teaching with a robust curriculum and technology that supports e-learning and developmental needs.
  5. Anticipate the academic, social-emotional, and trauma-informed needs of both students and school staff when they return to school in the fall. Provide funding and sufficient resources to meet those needs.
  6. Create recommendations for school support staff during the return, specifically in supporting special populations (juvenile justice, child welfare, homelessness, etc).
  7. Produce a list of policy recommendations outlining a plan to desegregate Connecticut public schools in order to prioritize educational equity and anti-racism.

As organizations that support students, school staff, and families across Connecticut in this time of great uncertainty, we demand and eagerly await substantive, sustained leadership from the State Department of Education over the coming months as we further adapt to COVID-19.  Our leaders must listen to and elevate Black and brown voices to establish effective statewide practices and to implement creative local solutions that eliminate existing inequities.

Tanis Klingler for the Equity in E-Learning Coalition.

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