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Church, Community Leaders Want New Haven Public Schools to Remain Closed

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Members of the New Haven Public Schools community gathered in Hartford Thursday morning to share their concern over reopening plans and to call for the state to cover the cost of protecting students and teachers.

“The main goal is come September, school is not open unless it’s safe and fully funded,” said Hyclis Williams, president of Paraprofessionals Local 3429 in New Haven.

Organizer Leslie Blatteau says the state needs to focus on larger cities in Connecticut, that face different challenges from smaller communities.

“We already know that our cities are underfunded, and that means families, teachers students and communities will be at risk if we are forced to go back,” said Blatteau.

They say there’s a disparity in cities that have more students than dollars, and there are too many unknowns in New Haven’s current plan for students to safely return.

“I think too many people are feeling confused right now, and that’s a dangerous set up for schools for people to feel confused and unsafe before we start,” said Blatteau.

On Thursday, members of the Greater New Haven Clergy Association said given the socioeconomic status of many people in the city, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, reopening should wait.

“Why would we put our children’s lives at stake when we know what’s on the horizon?” said Rev. Steven Cousin of Bethel A.M.E. Church, referring to a possible second wave in the fall.

Cousin says there needs to be equity among children learning from home. Under the current plan, all children will have distance learning at least one day a week. Grades four through 12 will have three days.

He says there needs to be an improvement in access to internet and laptops. Last year, 10% of students weren’t engaged in online learning. He says many students were at a disadvantage in technology and parental support.

“What about the children whose parents are not in that position?” Cousin asked. “Where they have to work two and three jobs just to put food on the table and clothes on their backs.”

Mayor Justin Elicker says he understands concerns about the return to school, and they’ll monitor the virus spread and adjust the plans if needed.

As members of the education community and New Haven clergy call for more state and local funding for schools, Elicker says there are $8.5 million in CARES Act funds, and he’ll push for more, to help cover the required changes like adding more nurses.

“The city pays for nurses in our schools and we’re required to have a nurse in every school. We’re going to have to increase the number of nurses by nine or ten,” said Elicker.

The clergy members say it’s all hands on deck in the community, calling churches and community leaders to help local children.

“Our educational system is in trouble, our babies are in trouble,” said Pastor John Lewis of Christ Chapel New Testament Church. “It’s time for us to do our moral duty and stand for the right of our people.”

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