Chants, speeches and a public art installation took over the state Capitol building Wednesday as educators, parents and students called on the state to delay in-person instruction for the coming school year.
The Lamont administration has pushed for schools to reopen amid the pandemic while allowing districts to prepare their own individual plans -- plans that vary widely around the state. In Hartford, schools are set to reopen on a hybrid model while giving families the option to remain in distance learning. In New Haven, the Board of Education has voted to offer only online classes at least until November because of fears over a resurgence of the coronavirus.
Teachers and parents who attended Wednesday’s rally expressed concern that there’s no statewide plan in place to adequately protect students from contracting COVID-19, noting that the most vulnerable are Black and brown students in cities like Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport.
“We know that our cities have been historically underfunded and as a result are at more risk if we are going to open for in-person learning,” said Leslie Blatteau, a teacher and parent in New Haven. “We know that our class sizes are bigger and that our buildings have been less maintained over the years, they’re less safe and have less access to outdoor space.”
Blatteau believes the state also has not considered the teacher shortage that Connecticut could face in the coming weeks as more educators decide to retire. She’s also worried about recent changes to rules regarding substitute teachers that bend the minimum requirements from a bachelor’s degree to a high school diploma.
“We can do it thoughtfully, we can invest and prepare. We don’t have to do this in panic mode,” said Blatteau.
Dr. Jesse P. Turner, director of the CCSU Literacy Center, said he’s concerned the hybrid model of in-person and online learning that many districts are adopting still doesn’t consider the risk to students who may live in multigenerational homes.
“If I bring the virus home, Grandma gets it, Grandpa gets it, Mom gets it. It’s just so much of a risk. I’m seeing an absence of leadership,” said Turner. “If you’re Black and brown, you’re going back less safe than white, affluent kids.”
Turner said school districts like Darien may have proper resources to better protect students and teachers, but students in Hartford or Bridgeport schools lack the necessary funding.
Dr. Valerie Horsley, professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Yale University, emphasized that the coronavirus pathogen will not be contained until there is a vaccine.
“The data tells us that it affects Black and brown communities more. Black kids are five times more likely, Hispanic kids eight times more likely to get COVID. It’s not OK for our governor to stand here and tell us that we need five days in class,” said Horsley.
Manchester parent and activist Keren Prescott told the rally that people of color are often first responders and essential workers who may have less access to quality care.
“If my child goes to school and I have to work and I can’t take off but I get sick, now I have to quarantine my child, and families may lose their jobs and income,” said Prescott.
Brenda Leon is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.