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State Halts In-person Classes For Now


Anthony Zepperi, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — As more Connecticut school districts announced plans to halt in-person education until January, Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday acknowledged COVID-19 cases are rising in schools, but said the state aims to keep in-person education going “as long as we can.”

Lamont said local officials can “make their own mind up,” and the state does not plan on stepping in with mandated closures like it did in the spring.

“I think the schools have handled this very well. Every situation is a little bit different,” he said, noting he felt it was appropriate to have older students learning in a hybrid model of online and in-person learning, and younger students learning more in their classrooms.

“When I look at K-12, I think the high schools are more at risk than perhaps the youngest grades,” Lamont said.

Still, Lamont warned of the negative impacts online-only classes may have on children.

“There’s a real trade-off. A lot of these kids are greatly disadvantaged, not just in terms of education, but also social and emotional, being isolated for that long period of time,” Lamont said. “I think Connecticut did well having the majority of our schools open as long as we have.”

The state Thursday reported 675 new COVID-19 cases among students over the past week, 178 more than the week prior. There were 328 new staff cases, 91 more than the previous week.

Of the new cases reported among students, 231 children were attending class in person five days a week, 322 had a hybrid of online and in-person classes and 115 were learning entirely online. More than half of Connecticut school districts are operating fully in person, while about 38 percent are hybrid and about 9 percent are fully remote.

Ansonia Public Schools said they will suspend in-person classes through Jan. 18, becoming the second district in Connecticut to shift to online-only classes for the remainder of the year as coronavirus cases continue to rise across the state.

New Haven’s public schools began the year entirely online and postponed plans to return to some in-person classes as cases began to rise this fall.

But Ansonia Superintendent of Schools Joseph DiBacco wrote in a letter to families Thursday that the city, based on state data, had seen an average of 27.1 new cases per day per 100,000 residents from Oct. 18-31.

“While this number is concerning by itself, what is more concerning is that COVID numbers are increasing across the state,” DiBacco said.

DiBacco said the increase in cases across the state has led to more school staff members having to quarantine, making it harder to keep school buildings open for in-person classes.

While in-person classes are expected to resume in January, the superintendent said the district will reassess learning models “based on our 14-day rolling average and our ability to staff our buildings.”

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said he did not yet think it was necessary to end in-person education.

“We should absolutely be taking steps to make sure we have a spring school semester,” Gottlieb said. “But after Thanksgiving, could we see more schools going to a distanced model? I think we will.”

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Connecticut Schools Ranked Among the Best


By Anthony Zepperi, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Connecticut’s schools made the grade, according to a national education report.

Gov. Ned Lamont and State Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona on Friday announced that Connecticut’s K-12 schools have been ranked as the third best in the nation by Education Week in the annual education of its “Quality Counts 2020: Grading the States’ report.

Connecticut received a grade of “B” with an overall score of 84.1 out of 100 points. The nation as a whole received a grade of “C.”

The report, based on an analysis by the Education Week Research Center, reviews how well the nation and the states do on assuring bright prospects for success over the course of a lifetime, how much they spend on schools and how fairly that money is distributed as well as the outcomes reflected by indicators such as test scores and graduation rates.

A state’s overall grade is the average of its scores on the three separate indices tracked by the report, which are school finance, chance-for-success, and K-12 achievement.

Lamont said that he appreciates the instructors who work diligently to help teach students.

“The strength of a state is dependent upon the health of its education system, and Connecticut’s schools are once again being recognized as among the best in the nation,” Lamont said. “We have the best teachers of any state and they are delivering results that are having positive impacts on students’ lives.

Lamont said that the flourishing of businesses depends on a good and efficient education system.

“The ability to attract businesses and encourage them to expand here is directly tied to the quality of education our workforce receives,” Lamont said.

Commissioner Cardona said that even as the state is battling a pandemic, it still is being recognized as a state with a great education climate.

“Thanks to our collective efforts as one educational community, Connecticut has again ranked third in the nation,” Cardona said. “While this pandemic has thrown unprecedented challenges our way, we are inspired by the heightened sense of commitment and innovation demonstrated by our teachers, families, and school staff to meet the needs of our learners.”

Cardona assures that as students enter the new school year, they will notice the efficiency of the education system.

“We enter 2020-21 in the same spirit of collaboration, and with strengthened resolve, to deliver a reimagined PK-12 that ensures equity, access, and excellence for all students anytime, anywhere,” Cardona said.

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Hartford Public School Navigates Spyware Attack


HARTFORD — A ransomware attack forced officials to cancel Hartford Public Schools’ first day of school.

There was no in-person or online classes on Tuesday for Hartford Public School students.

Late in the afternoon on Tuesday, school leaders said all systems impacted were restored, and that classes would begin on Wednesday.

More than 200 of the city’s 300 servers were affected. One impacted area included the communication of transportation routes to bus companies ,according to WFSB.

A letter to parents said:

“Let’s try this again! We are pleased to announce that Hartford Public Schools will start school for both online and in-person learning tomorrow, Wednesday, September 9, 2020. We regret the unexpected delay and deeply appreciate your patience and flexibility as we resume our plans to welcome all our students back to school.”

During a Tuesday morning news conference, Mayor Luke Bronin said it was unclear when school would be able to begin following the attack.

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“We are often the subject of cyber attacks,” Bronin said. “This was however, the most extensive and significant attack that the city has been subject to certainly in the last five years.”

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ConnectiKid To Host Annual Gala Online


HARTFORD — ConnectiKids will host its 8th annual gala this September with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting children in Hartford. This time, the event will be held online.

The festive and philanthropic evening taking place virtually will offer all an opportunity to both support children and celebrate nearly 42 years of service in Hartford and is scheduled for Sept. 26 at 6 p.m.

ConnectiKids has been educating and empowering children since it was established in 1978. Now, as young students navigate an academic year as never experienced before, they need you more than ever.

Please join ConnectiKids from the comfort of your own home for a virtual variety show style evening of music, spoken word and even a little magic, as it continues to be a consistent and encouraging force in children’s lives during this new school year and beyond.


The evening will include a silent auction with an array of gifts and services donated by local businesses.

Local live entertainment will delight guests and inspiring words will be shared by friends of ConnectiKids. The artistic and accomplished television personality, actress and performer, Alika Hope, will keep the crowd energized as our Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening.

Further details can be found on the ConnectiKids Facebook event page at http://facebook.com/ConnectiKids, as well as on the ConnectiKids website at http://ct-kids.org/. Tickets are available online at https://givebutter.com/ctkids.

The ConnectiKids 8th annual gala is sponsored by A&R Trucking. For sponsorship inquiries call (860) 522-8710.

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Gov. Lamont Anounces Relief Funds for School Opening


By Anthony Zepperi, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday announced that the State of Connecticut is allocating an additional $160 million in funding for school districts to safely reopen.

These relief funds add to the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) of $15 million and $111 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds which has brought total funding to 266 million for more than 160 school districts.

Gov. Lamont said that the funding is essential for ensuring schools safely re-open for students.

“These grants are an essential component to providing the best possible educational opportunities during this uncertain time,” Lamont said, in a press conference.

Lamont also said that these new funds will help needy families who are in struggling neighborhoods.

“Through this program, we are going to be able to offer devices, platforms, and internet connectivity to help with distance learning in lower income areas for students just beginning their education through college and graduate school,” Lamont said. “It also helps to increase access to higher education by expanding scholarship opportunities, and help those seeking vocational training to launch a new career.”

An issuance of Coronavirus relief funds that Connecticut received under the CARES Act will be reserved to assist districts with necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency, between March 1, 2020 and December 30, 2020.

The Connecticut State Department of Education will provide ongoing technical assistance to districts as it pertains to eligible activities and spending under the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which include personal protective equipment such as masks as well as laptops and more staff for distant learning opportunities. 

Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said that it is paramount that students have access to this technology. 

“By strategically aligning our federal and state resources, the state will maximize its efforts to prioritize equitable access to technology and high-quality curriculum, accelerate learning opportunities, and provide for the social and emotional well-being of students, teachers and staff,” Cardona said. “We will continue to aggressively pursue funding sources to help districts fill funding gaps and meet the anticipated and unknown costs of educating students over the next year.”


As of Aug. 8, 2020, there have been 50,320 positive cases of the virus with 4,441 deaths in Connecticut, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Hartford Hits Grim Reality With COVID-19, First Infant Death


By Thomas Nocera, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford has likely set a grim and new global record as it struggles to contain its own Coronavirus outbreak –  the youngest victim to die from the illness passed away in the city in April.

It is reportedly the first around the world.

Just shy of seven-weeks old, the infant girl was reported to be in an unresponsive state when rushed to St. Francis Hospital, according to officials. Though doctors and nurses tried desperately to resuscitate her, Chief State Medical Examiner James Gill confirmed the child’s death on Thursday in an email.

“The infant did test positive for the COVID-19 virus and an autopsy was done at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner,” Gill wrote.

While medical officials say they can’t confirm the final cause of death until a necessary battery of tests is performed, the news has already rippled throughout the state. With the death of someone so young from the illness a rarity, Gov. Ned Lamont addressed the “tragic milestone” in a press conference.

“Probably the youngest person, ever, to die of COVID,” he recently informed viewers, “has died here in Connecticut.”

Urging people to continue practicing social distancing, Lamont joined an increasingly loud chorus of elected officials asking for the public’s help – including Mayor Luke Bronin. In a press conference Friday, Bronin announced a troubling new statistic: the 120 now-confirmed COVID cases in Hartford marks a 50 percent increase from just two days ago. In response, he said, his administration would be enforcing new, stricter measures.

“We are stepping up enforcement efforts to require social distancing,” he said. Specifically, inspectors will be “assessing compliance with social distancing requirements” at many stores still open throughout the city.

As the virus slowly burns its way through communities across the country, Hartford’s steady increase in cases has been thoroughly tracked and documented. While cases are spread widely throughout, pinpointed statistics on everything from the number of cases and deaths, to changes in the rate of infection, have been essential in informing the government’s response. Those statistics aren’t compiled in Hartford however. Instead they make their way through a web of hospitals and state officials before hitting the Mayor’s desk. Hartford’s Director of Health, Liany Arroyo, explained how that network functions in a statement:

“We receive information about cases and fatalities from the State Department of Public Health, which receives data from hospitals and laboratories. The numbers we get are directly from the State, which compiles information and inputs it into a statewide database which our local Health Department accesses multiple times a day.”

Analysis of that database has led city officials to embrace more stringent rules, concluding that the outbreak will get worse before it gets better. While Bronin hopes his new measures will eventually help decrease the number of cases, he struck a somber tone about the near future.

“We’re going to be in this for a while,” he said Friday. “We’re going to be seeing increases for a while.”

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CSCU Officially Launches ‘Free’ Community College Program


By Kathleen Megan

HARTFORD — Connecticut State Colleges and Universities president Mark Ojakian is getting the message out: first-time, full-time students can attend a community college at no cost next fall as long as they graduated from an in-state high school.

At its meeting Thursday, the Board of Regents for Higher Education approved a set of guidelines for the so-called “last dollar” scholarship program, which will make community college free to eligible students regardless of income and regardless of when they graduated from high school.

The program was approved by the legislature last spring and has been named the Pledge to Advance Connecticut, or PACT.

“The policy and guidelines we take up today, as required by law, reflect the letter and the spirit of the legislation and represents a powerful message to potential students in Connecticut that education is attainable and that we are investing in the future of our state,” Ojakian said Thursday before the board voted unanimously on the guidelines.

Other requirements for applicants are that they complete a federal application for financial aid and accept all awards and that they remain in good academic standing. Eligible students can graduate from a public or private high school or can be homeschooled.

The “last dollar” aspect of the program means that after all the other sources of federal, state and institutional financial aid grants are made to a student, a PACT award will be given to cover any remaining tuition or fee costs. The PACT funds can be used for tuition and various fees, whether a student activity fee or a transportation fee or supplemental course fees. Textbooks and supplies are not considered eligible expenditures.

After the board meeting, Ojakian held a news conference at East Hartford High School to officially launch the program.

“I think we have a responsibility to start to market this especially since the first awards are due in the fall of 2020,” Ojakian said. “As you know, other jurisdictions that have done free college have had far longer lead time to market this, so we need to start in earnest, which is why we are kicking it off today and really making a promise to our state and to our students that there will be free community college come fall.”

The PACT guidelines say that the cost of the program is expected to range from $7 million to $15 million — a wide range because it is uncertain exactly how many additional students will be attracted by the offer. CSCU is estimating an increase of about 5%, or 1,250 additional students. Exactly how it will be funded is also uncertain at this point. State statute requires the state to identity a funding source during the 2020 legislative session

The PACT guidelines say that “in the event that insufficient resources are made available to CSCU, the program is designed to allow for pro-rating of grants or awarding on a first-come-first-served basis” and notes that there is no requirement in the law that CSCU dedicate existing state appropriations or tuition revenue to the program.

Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, explains budget details to the board at Thursday's meeting.
Mark Ojakian

PHOTO BY KATHLEEN MEGAN :: CT MIRROR

Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, at a meeting earlier this year.

Ojakian said he thinks the conversations are happening now between the governor’s office and legislative leadership.

“I would anticipate that we would see funding in the governor’s budget in February, but that’s still be determined,” Ojakian said.

Rep. Gregg Haddad, D-Mansfield and co-chairman of the legislature’s higher education committee, said there is a commitment on the part of the state “to make sure one hundred percent of needs are met” and “only in extraordinary circumstances,” would it be necessary to to pro-rate the grants.

“All indications are that people inside the administration and the legislature think this is a worthy investment,” said Haddad, who was one of the key proponents of the legislation. “I feel like the success of this program has been dependent on the idea that the money is reliable. When we say we are offering free community college — that you mean what you say.”

“I think it gives hope to every student, no matter what their economic circumstance, that they can go to college,” he said. “It’s a benefit not just to them, but to our system.”

First published in CT Mirror.org

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Hartford Winterfest Opens


HARTFORD — Winterfest Hartford returned to the Bushnell Park on Friday.

The winter festival is in its 10th year of featuring free tutoring in skating and skate rentals, photos with Santa and, of course, the carousel.

The fun began on Nov. 29 and will go through Jan. 20 for the entire family.

Outdoor ice skating is free of charge from 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Skate rentals are also free. The historic Bushnell Park Carousel is open for $1 carousel rides on weekends.

Santa’s Workshop is open on Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 22. You can also sign up for a free skating lesson.

For more information, and a complete calendar of events during Winterfest, go to winterfesthartford.com

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Lighting the way to safe, permanent homes for kids


By Josiah Brown

November is National Adoption Month.  Amid the opioid epidemicwith the number of Connecticut children in foster care increasing past 4,300 (after having earlier dropped below 4,000)— and with the total number of children under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction due to abuse or neglect exceeding 10,000 per year— let’s consider ways to help these young people secure safe, permanent homes.

All children deserve this, whether with their biological families, extended kin, or adoptive families.  Let’s also recognize people who open their homes as foster parents, during traumatic periods of transition.

Public consciousness around adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) is growing. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found six in 10 Americans experience at least one adverse experience such as household violence, drug or alcohol or sexual abuse, or incarceration of a family member— during childhood.  Nearly one in six endure four or more different types of such experiences, with women and African Americans among those at greater risk.

According to the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat, “Preventing ACEs can help children and adults…. The more types of ACEs a person has, the higher their risk for negative outcomes, which will limit their opportunities.”  Dangers range from health conditions like diabetes, depression, and hypertension to struggles with school, work, and relationships.

Progress, but serious challenges remain

Connecticut is making progress in caring for children at particular riskthe fraction who, after investigation by the Department of Children and Families (DCF, which decides to keep children at home in over 90% of cases), are placed under protection.  Especially encouraging was the move, as former DCF Commissioner Joette Katz notes, from institutions to families; the percentage of children protected in residential facilities fell from about 30% to 8% between January 2011 and 2019.  She observes, “of those who remained there, many have complex medical needs.”

Such progress is bolstered by public and nonprofit actorsfrom the Governor’s Task Force on Justice for Abused ChildrenOffice of the Child Advocate, and Connecticut Alliance of Adoptive and Foster Families, to the Center for Children’s Advocacy and Children’s Law Center.  (New Haven alone has, for example, Connecticut Voices for ChildrenClifford Beers‘r kids, and various school, university, faith-based, and hospital resources.)  Other things being equal, the aim is to return children to their families.  But if that’s not safe or wise in a specific case, having foster care and adoption available is crucial.

Judges play a fundamental role in determining a child’s best interest in such cases.  The process also includes professional attorneys and social workers, to protect children from birth to adolescence.  But these professionals often have large caseloads.  In this process, another valuable role is that of a court-appointed special advocate (CASA).

CASA volunteers can help

CASAs are volunteers from all walks of life whom judges appoint to collaborate in discerning and defending the best interests of children who have experienced abuse or neglect.  These volunteers meet with children at least monthly, getting to know them and their circumstancesincluding teachers and social workers, foster parents and families.  Carefully screened and trained through a systematic curriculum and part of a national network recognized for improving outcomes for kids, CASAs make evidence-based recommendations to judges.  At the center: these caring, consistent volunteers’ relationships with the children themselves—with whom these adults can make a lifelong difference through one-on-one interactions at a difficult time.

The CASA network has an established affiliate in Fairfield County and a new statewide association.  This work is expanding as a result of a 2016 state law.  Until now, only 1 percent of Connecticut’s children in foster care had CASAs, reflecting an unmet need and an enormous opportunity for volunteers to get involved.  In 2019, CASA of Southern Connecticut and CASA of Northern Connecticut started up, received 501(c)(3) status, and began welcoming applications from prospective volunteers.  The first cohort will train in December and begin volunteer advocacy in juvenile courts early in the new year.  Engaging as a CASA is one proven way to help change a child’s story.  Ultimately the goal is to identify a safe, permanent home where the child can thrive.

“Help … light the way”

As Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, says: “Keeping children safe must be everybody’s business.  CASA volunteers play a unique role on behalf of some of our most vulnerable children.  Their commitment, vigilance and persistence offer hope where there has been little.  They help to light the way for these children—and for all of us.”

November is Adoption Month.  This holiday, as we cherish blessings of family and friends, let’s also think of children whose family ties have frayed or fractured.  Whether through adoption, fostering, volunteering in some other way —including as a CASA— or supporting organizations advancing such efforts, there is much we can do— as well as much to be thankful for.

Josiah H. Brown is executive director of CASA of Southern Connecticut (New Haven, New London, and Middlesex counties). Twitter: @JosiahBrownCT

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‘World’s Largest Bounce House’ to Invade Hartford Area


The Big Bounce America’s 2019 tour is bringing the most action-packed
experience of the year to the Hartford area on July 19.


The event will run until July 21 and will feature the world’s largest bounce house, which is 10,000 square-foot, a 900-foot long inflatable obstacle course.


The Big Bounce America tour is the largest touring inflatable event in the
entire world and will be taking place at the Granby’s Salmon Brook Park, 215 Salmon Brook St.


The Big Bounce America tour features three massive inflatable attractions:
the world’s largest bounce house, an incredible 900+ foot long obstacle
course, and a unique, space-themed wonderland, bringing family-friendly
entertainment to all new heights.

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