Gov. Lamont tries to reassure anxious students about school reopening in midst of coronavirus pandemic

Christel Deskins

In Sergio Carrion’s experience at Hill Regional Career High School in New Haven, there was never enough soap or paper towels. School bathrooms often did not have mirrors and were only “semi-clean,” he said. Carrion, 17, a rising senior, asked Gov. Ned Lamont point-blank Friday whether the state was prepared […]

In Sergio Carrion’s experience at Hill Regional Career High School in New Haven, there was never enough soap or paper towels. School bathrooms often did not have mirrors and were only “semi-clean,” he said.

Carrion, 17, a rising senior, asked Gov. Ned Lamont point-blank Friday whether the state was prepared to reopen schools like his amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“How are you going to guarantee me when I go back that I’m going to have that, if you couldn’t do it before?” he asked during a discussion held at West Haven High School about reopening Connecticut high schools in the fall.

“We got your back on this,” Lamont responded. “We’re providing the masks. We’re providing the disinfectant. We’re providing the cleaner.”

State Department of Education commissioner Miguel Cardona said that he had heard similar concerns about school sanitation from teachers and that Lamont’s administration was working to identify districts that might need additional funds for cleaning supplies. He added that all districts will have a liaison to whom students, parents, teachers and staff can direct concerns about compliance with COVID-19 protocols.

In line with the state’s reopening guidelines, school districts are preparing for a full reopening, a hybrid model of in-person and online learning, and an online-only option in case COVID-19 infections spike in Connecticut.

West Haven Superintendent of Schools Neil Cavallaro said that classes at the high school would begin in-person and could switch to a remote or hybrid model if needed.

“I’m more concerned with starting the year with distance learning than when we went out in March,” he said, noting that he was particularly worried about young students who “need to learn the routines, the structure of going to school.”

Of the dozen high school students who met with Lamont Friday, most said that remote learning this past spring had been a lonely experience and that they were looking forward to returning to the full classroom experience.

Dana Paredes, the principal of West Haven High School, noted that all of the students at the high school receive free or reduced lunch and remote learning made it much more difficult for her to check in on her students.

“In order for me to make sure that my kids are OK, they need to be here,” she said. “I like to make sure that everyone’s eating, that everyone has the services they need, everyone is good mentally and physically. It’s really hard to do that online.”

But for some, the prospect of re-entering the classroom remains a frightening one.

“I’m very scared. I’m more on the side that we should distance learn,” said Neishaly Colon, a graduate of Hill Regional Career who is headed to the University of New Haven for a bachelors degree in criminal justice and a masters degree in national security this fall.

Colon told Lamont that she lived with two grandparents who both have cancer and has a sister going into high school in New Haven.

“How are we ensured that we’re going to be safe?” she asked.

New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Iline Tracey emphasized that many teachers in the city were also “petrified” about returning to in-person learning.

“When my teachers look me in the face and say, ‘How can you bring us back? What will you say if one of us dies on your watch?‘ those are things we need to think about,” she said. “I want my kids back in school, but I want it do be safe for them,” she said.

Lamont emphasized that in March, when Connecticut swiftly shut down in response to rising COVID-19 cases, he had to instill confidence in health care workers that their own safety was a top priority. COVID-19 infection rates were lower among doctors and nurses than among the general population, he said.

“I think it’s going to be the same thing with the teachers,” he said. ”We’ve got to do everything we can to convince them, ‘Look, I can’t promise you that things are 100% safe, but we’re doing everything we can to keep you safe.‘ ”

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©2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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