On May 11, the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group hosted the first in a series of online roundtables. These virtual meetings will keep the state’s residents informed, and give them a chance to ask questions about how and when the state’s communities and businesses will reopen. This initial roundtable addressed the reopening our state’s schools after the shutdown, and related topics. The panelists included experts from early education and childcare all the way through colleges and universities. Their key message, above everything else, was that safety was the number one priority as we explore how we get students back in the classroom.
• Safety is #1, most important to faculty, staff, and students
• COVID- Testing must be significantly scaled up before students, faculty, and staff return to campuses and schools
• Concerns remain about equity and resources for students of diverse backgrounds, different socio-economic statuses, and those with disabilities
• Access to childcare for parents returning to work is a major concern : camp is considered childcare as it’s a safe place for kids during the day.
• Additional support will be needed from all levels of government to provide ensure new measures to provide for safe learning environments are met
This is our collective call to action as educators, as leaders – together we’re united not only in addressing COVID-19, but reimagining education to make it better than it was before, while keeping in mind that safety has to be a priority. I look forward to being part of this work with everyone.
— Miguel Cardona, Education Commissioner
Matt Cartter, DPH State Epidemiologist, noted the importance of flexibility as we plan for different phases of reopening and the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 later in the year. He also noted that one of the key inputs will be the impact the pandemic has had on people’s risk-tolerance. To this, Commissioner Cardona added the need to acknowledge that the road to recovery will be different for different schools and that it will be essential to provide social and emotional support throughout the reopening process. Other panelists including Don Williams, Executive Director of CEA and Jan Hochadel, President of AFT Connecticut highlighted the concerns from teachers around safety, reiterating the need for flexibility as we balance health and education needs.
Dr. Joanne Berger-Sweeney, President, Trinity College (CCIC Chair) observed that many higher education institutions dedicate a significant portion of financial resources to financial aid and that it will be important to ensure they can continue providing that support to students who need it. She noted additional assistance from different levels of government and from philanthropic donors will likely be needed to support this. Several panelists including Beth Bye, Office of Early Childhood, Mark Ojakian, President of CSCU Commissioner, and Thomas Katsouleas, President of UConn spoke about importance of thinking about the intersections that can increase the need for support among certain populations like students with disabilities, community college students who may also working parents or LGBTQ+ youth that may face challenge in their home situation as well as challenges with accessing their education.
Rob Rader, Connecticut Association of Boards of Education shared that this has been top of mind among his stakeholders as they think about how they will run on a logistical basis – physical distancing in classrooms, changes to student transportation – but also how they will provide the emotional resources to help students adjust. This will require investment in new areas, including in technology. At the higher education level, several panelists noted there will be pressure on traditional sources of revenue like tuition, room and board and other auxiliary revenues. Some institutions can absorb this in the short term but if the trends continue there will be a need for creativity and innovation to attract students back to school.
Rick Levin, former president of Yale, noted that education has moved on line quickly, using the most basic tools. He stressed the point there are platforms out there that support the best online experience with interactive modules, content gamification and other elements that deliver an engaging experience for students, which are helpful for instructors. The next phase of the challenge, Levin said, will be to better integrate online learning with traditional in person learning to offer students and staff the flexibility they will need to navigate what comes next.