By Thomas Nocera, Staff Writer
HARTFORD — Hartford will receive about $11 million in funding to help cope with the coronavirus pandemic that forced school closures.
On Thursday, a week after cancelling all kindergarten to 12th grade in-person classes for the remainder of the school year, Gov. Ned Lamont announced that the state would be receiving $111 million in educational aid from the federal government.
The aid comes as part of the congressional coronavirus relief package and will be used to help schools reshape themselves to meet educational needs in a world defined by social distancing measures and facility closures.
“This global pandemic is causing unprecedented consequences that we have never experienced in our lifetimes,” the governor said, “and our school systems have been forced to respond in creative ways.”
The funds will be distributed to individual school districts in proportion to the amount of Title 1 funding they’ve received in the past. Title 1 is a federal program that gives aid to schools based on how many low-income families with children live in their districts.
Across the country, educational institutions have had to make a sudden pivot to distance learning as the pandemic set in.
In Connecticut, individual districts have been given a great deal of latitude by the state to develop new curriculums that meet their students’ needs. According to a Board of Education spokesperson for Hartford, the transition to distance learning wasn’t always a smooth one.
“[This] is a new way of learning for many of our students, and teachers have reached out to students and families via email, phone, and Google Classroom to help them adjust,” she said. “Not being able to provide direct face-to-face instruction and student engagement in the classroom is a significant challenge.”
One glaring problem the funding will help address is an uneven access to technology. Without face-to-face interactions, computers and the internet are new educational necessities – but many families lack access to either or both.
The money will help bolster an already existing effort by the Board of Education to mail out laptops and printed curriculums to students.As well as providing for those immediate needs, aid will also go towards cushioning budgets, fine-tuning curriculums for students with disabilities, and developing strategies for the days ahead.
Donald Williams, executive director for the Connecticut Education Association, a non-profit organization that represents teachers, students, and their families across the state believes officials are beginning to look towards the more distant future when making decisions now.
“My sense is that they needed to pivot from thinking about coming back for the last two, three weeks of school,” he said, “to planning for summer school or possible reopening in the fall. Everyone understands there are a lot of moving parts involved in bringing students and staff back into school before there is a vaccine.”
What actually happens going forward will depend on a number of important measurements. Future rates of infection, testing and contact tracing capabilities, and transportation options for students and staff will all be weighed in the coming weeks and months by health and education officials.
Though Lamont initially hoped that students might be able to attend at least some in-person classes at the end of the year, the changing reality on the ground made a return to traditional teaching an impossibility he announced last week.
“I was holding out hope, particularly for high school seniors, that we’d at least be able to complete the final few weeks,” Lamont said in a press conference last week. “But given the current circumstances – and to protect everyone’s safety – it has become clear that it’s just not possible.”
Many issues – like childcare options for parents that will be returning to work as state reopens – remain unsolved however. A spokesperson for the Board of Education says a task force composed of community based organizations and education officials will be key in addressing this issue and others in the evolving educational landscape that lies ahead.