Five months after Gov. Ned Lamont’s Executive Order closing schools, surveys show students, teachers and families split in terms of their expectations and comfort returning to classrooms (surveys from CEA, AFT and SDE).
Public health guidelines will rightly impact the manner in which education can be delivered in Connecticut this fall, but that is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of concerns. As advocates focused on equity, we’re concerned about the lack of socialization, learning loss, low engagement, inequitable access to technology and food insecurity. These are persistent, interconnected issues for students, often based on income, race and geographic location.
Given the health risks, fiscal costs of reopening safely, and the fact that a significant number of families will decide to stay home, Connecticut should put an emphasis on ensuring that learning plans (full reopen, hybrid and remote) are of high-quality and accessed by all students.
In order to prepare for different scenarios, districts are preparing and submitting reopening plans to the State Department of Education. ConnCAN (the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now) has compiled over 140 plans that have become available and offered state and local policymakers with equitable solutions for Connecticut school reopening. These recommendations include:
- starting with a hybrid model for reopening;
- practicing social distancing as a requirement, not a recommendation;
- periodic testing for those on the frontline; and
- understanding where children are academically, socially and emotionally through informal baseline assessments.
Our 2020 policy goals of continued student learning, technology access, mitigating learning loss and equitable funding for all public schools would address many of the education-related disparities listed above; disparities that have only been made worse by COVID-19.
Last week, Governor Lamont announced the Everybody Learns Initiative: a $43.5 million program to close the digital divide for Connecticut students. Local leaders in Hartford and around the state have also taken steps to mitigate educational inequities by expanding internet connectivity to areas with the greatest need. However, what works in one town in Connecticut may not necessarily work everywhere. We need to implement plans that ensure public safety while providing every student with the quality education they deserve. And, we must make sure all of our students are able to access and receive it.
Subira Gordon is Executive Director of ConnCAN (the CT Coalition for Achievement Now).