reopening schools

Hamden, New Haven Teachers Join State Call for Funding

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Cars packed Hamden Middle School Thursday afternoon with teachers who say the state needs to cover the costs for a safe return to school.

“The way we have to make the accommodations and even just changing the classrooms, things that we never had to consider before. It takes funding,” said Melissa Rowe, a speech pathologist at Hamden Middle School.

Hamden Education Association President Diane Marinaro lead the car caravan Thursday that was part of a statewide caravan calling for more money, planning and time for back to school.

In Hamden, Marinaro said the Board of Education was already $2 million short in its current budget. Now she says their hybrid plan will be hard to execute.

“I think the state has to look at not only our district at all districts that are desperately needing this funding,” said Marinaro.

They’re sending a message to Gov. Ned Lamont that every safety detail in local classrooms should be considered closely.

“We’re working with articulation and speech sounds,” said Rowe, who explained speech pathology often has her working in close proximity with students.

In New Haven, the American Federation of Teachers had a similar message, scrawling it out on windows instead of chalkboards, asking questions and getting few answers.

“Every single question I asked of what safeguard are you doing, I’ve heard either we don’t know yet or know,” said Jessica Light, a third-grade teacher at Worthington Hooker School. “I don’t want to go back for in-person learning and have a student or a teacher or a para or a custodian die. That doesn’t seem like that’s a risk worth taking.”

Light says they do want to get back to class, but they say New Haven’s return plan is more of a guide for now, with no clear execution plan. Under that plan, she’s unsure how she’d manage the 27 kids in her class.

“They’re trying to imagine I go from cohort to cohort, but they’ll be in separate locations so I don’t know who will be watching them when I’m not there, so you’re going to need three of my classrooms and three of me in order to make it safe,” said Light. “We don’t have that. We don’t have that many spaces for everyone’s classrooms to be triplicated.”

Elizabeth Reyes is a certified special education teacher at Lincoln Basset.

“Our demographic of students usually are crying, mucus coming out of their nose, saliva, some are incontinent, you have to change them,” said Reyes.

She spent her own money on supplies and protection, although she says the schools promised to have them available.

As teachers call for more state and federal funding, on the local level New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker says they’re aware of the concerns. He says $8.5 million from the CARES Act will help cover infrastructure improvements, acquiring PPE, and making sure K-8 students have devices for online learning.

As for execution, New Haven Federation of Teachers President David Cicarella says time is short for finding out how the plan will be put in place.

“To suggest that four weeks from now we’re going to have all these things settled and in place, it just doesn’t look it from where we sit today,” said Cicarella. “At some point, there has to be a drop-dead point where we say, as of this date we have to make the decision: are we ready to go or not. That cannot be the day before school starts.”   

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