Consensus is the need to get students & teachers safely back in the classrooms.
On Tuesday, December 22, 2020 State Senator Tony Hwang (R-28) moderated an engaged shareholder panel to discuss how Connecticut’s schools and students have been impacted by pandemic related protocols and what the state could be doing to better support students and staff.
The panelists were:
–State Senator Eric Berthel, ranking senate leader, CT General Assembly Education Committee
–Jeff Leake, President, CT Educators Association (CEA)
–Robert Smoler, Teacher & President, Fairfield Education Association (CEA)
–Anne Fritz Linval, Easton parent of 6 & 8 year old students
–Gwen Samuels, Founder, CT Parents Union advocating for Educational Access in Priority School Districts
The discussion began with an enthusiastic congratulations for State Department of Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona. It was announced just before the forum that President-Elect Biden will nominate Cardona to the US Secretary of Education post. His immigrant life experience and public school teaching credentials of having served on practically every level of a school system make him incredibly well suited to the incredibly important task of aspirational education at the national level.
While the panelists were from a variety of different backgrounds and perspectives, there was an incredible amount of consensus throughout the forum.
The number one goal of the state education system has to be getting students and teachers safely back into the classroom.
Two of the biggest actions that the State Department of Education and Department of Public Health must take are:
- To establish a set of medically based data points, or metrics, for local school systems to reference when determining whether they should close or remain open. Leaving decisions up to towns had seemed like a more sensible approach to shutting schools down statewide in June, but experience showed that localized autonomy without metrics and health guidelines has created much more conflict and stress for students, parents/caregivers and local education administrators. There is an urgent need for better federal, state and local coordination.
- To prioritize our teacher and school personnel on the Covid-19 vaccine schedule. Those essential workers need the protection to allow them to perform the important task of educating all of Connecticut students in person and in our schools.
There are a number of challenges that students and their families are facing having had to adjust to being educated at home. Anne Linval gave a personal account of how virtual learning is affecting her household. She specifically noted how younger students are impacted by lack of social emotional learning dynamics and gave examples of her children’s regressive behaviors in learning remotely. She also raised concerns of the negative impact on special education and independent education development during the pandemic.
Another important reminder impacting students was provided by Gwen Samuels who explained that there are inner-city families in priority school districts who cannot access a consistent learning environment complete with internet access to their students. These shortcomings have only widened the achievement gap in access and learning. While it has been incredibly encouraging to see communities and faith based organizations come together to support Connecticut students, their efforts are barely scratching the surface of need.
Jeff Leake, (CEA) emphasized that health safety standards and guidelines need to be established and maintained for all schools before teachers can safely return to school. Leake also understood and warned of the social emotional development that has been stunted since learning shifted from classrooms to a screen. Getting students back to an in-school setting is not only urgently needed, but will come with a whole new set of adjustment hurdles for students who have had significant portions of their weeks spent learning independently.
Beyond the need for safety guidelines and metrics AND priority on the vaccine schedule, Sen. Berthel articulated that educational strategies need to be implemented on how these learning changes have caused students to fall behind. He emphasized needing to utilize the lessons learned during the months of the pandemic on the importance of social emotional learning in educational success.
“With all these important issues in the mix, there is no doubt that tough discussions and decisions need to be made on how to sustain and invest in Connecticut’s future in education,” said Sen. Hwang.
Deputy Senate Republican Leader Tony Hwang was re-elected to his 4th term in the CT General Assembly. Hwang was just appointed ranking leader on Public Health, Insurance and Real Estate and Planning and Development Committees and member of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.
Hwang had previously served as the ranking leader on the Public Safety and Security, Higher Education and Employment and Housing Committees. Hwang is also a member of the Transportation Committee. Hwang also serves as the co-chair of the bipartisan BioScience Caucus.
Hwang was appointed to Governor Lamont’s Workforce Council on recommendations for supporting economic development. Hwang is a member of Connecticut’s Commission on Women, Children and Seniors (CWCS) 2Gen Advisory Council addressing intergenerational poverty.