Ronni Newton / photo
Teacher protest last week (Ronni Newton / photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Following widespread protests last week by teachers across the state, Gov. Ned Lamont announced an additional $160 million in funding for school districts to safely reopen their doors at the end of the month.

That’s on top of $15 million in coronavirus relief funds and $111 million in emergency relief funds.

The $160 million in funding will help prepare the schools to reopen safely.

Lamont said over 50% of the funding will go to purchase cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, or PPE. He said the next biggest piece is related to staffing districts might need to bring into the classroom if older teachers are unable to return to the school building. He said some of the school districts also will require additional bus monitors.

Lamont said he’s happy that about 55% of the schools want to reopen full time and about 45% are opening using a hybrid model of both in-person and remote learning.

“I like the way it’s sorting out though that most schools are prioritizing in-school education,” Lamont said.

Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said the goal is to get kids back into the classroom.

“We know that’s a better option,” Cardona said.

CEA President Jeff Leake and AFT Connecticut Vice President Mary Yordon said funding is welcome news.

“Now is the time to also provide clear, updated safety guidelines rooted in medical studies and scientific research, especially since recent studies show that children and teenagers can spread COVID-19 to other students, adults, and to family and friends at home,” Leake and Yordon wrote in a statement. “Failure to strengthen such protections risks creating COVID-19 hot-spots as is happening in other states, and reversing the progress Connecticut has made. We strongly support continuing the progress and improving safety for students, educators and their families.”

Last week teachers across the state protested the prospect of returning to the classroom without more protections in place for them and their students.

Shellye Davis, co-president of the Hartford Federation of Paraprofessionals, AFT Local 2221, said their members will not support a “rush to reopen buildings simply to provide daycare and appeal to big business.”

Davis said meeting those guidelines will require more than additional workspaces, classrooms and buses.

Asked if they planned to strike if they didn’t feel the schools were being opened safely, Davis said they expect the governor and state officials to sit down with them and talk about what they need.

“We want to be in school. The kids want to be in school,” Davis said. “The problem is we can’t do that if we can’t be safe.”

Lamont said the funding proves the state is putting their money “where our mouth is to make sure you get back to school safely.”