Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Gov. Ned Lamont talks to students on a laptop outside New Britain High School (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

NEW BRITAIN, CT — During a time when most schools are doing both in-person instruction and remote learning, the state’s largest teachers’ union says a new survey shows that equity for the lowest performing districts has taken a backseat.

“Our teachers shared their experiences regarding the lack of school funding; shortages of PPE, cleaning supplies, and learning resources; limited technology and access to the internet; poor ventilation; and no plans to engage absent students,” CEA President Jeff Leake said. “These are all things needed to keep school communities safe and the staff in place to help students achieve.”

Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said half of the $266 million in coronavirus relief funds for schools went to the Alliance Districts— the 33 lowest-performing districts in Connecticut.

Of the 2,000 teachers interviewed, less than half of the Alliance District teachers said their classrooms are cleaned and disinfected daily compared to 64% of non-Alliance District teachers.

Teachers also complained about access and quality of PPE and cleaning supplies.

“We have PPE, but not great quality,” one teacher said in the survey. “I don’t think we have funding to staff full in-person learning with six feet of social distancing, and we don’t have the correct ventilation.”

Gov. Ned Lamont said Connecticut used more of the federal coronavirus relief funding for schools than many other states.

“I think we’re providing PPE for all of our schools. Doing everything we can to give teachers and students the confidence that you can go back to school safely,” Lamont said.

Lamont said he supports a return to in-person learning because “hybrid is not as good as being with your teacher.”

The state left it up to local school districts to decide whether to fully reopen or go fully remote, or some combination of the two.

Technology and attendance on those remote learning days have been a struggle for some. Cardona said about 3% of the students have not been logging on. That means 97% of students have logged on at least once a week for the first four or five weeks of school. 

“What we have to do is continue to work with those students who are disengaged or come in for some days and not others,” Cardona said.

He said they are reaching out to families to make sure they understand “a day of distance learning is just as important as an in-person day.”

Wifi and technology also continue to be a problem.

The CEA survey found more than 26% of Alliance District teachers say students don’t have the computer devices they need. And more than 35% of Alliance District teachers say their students don’t have access to the internet.

“The reality is so many more people are using online so if there’s a glitch in the system, which I know is happening in different districts, it’s because of usage,“ Cardona said. “We’re going to work out those kinks.”

Connecticut has purchased 142,000 devices for students.

But teachers are still concerned about the inequities created by the lack of devices or internet.

“We are witnessing a broader awareness of inequities in our school districts and the dire consequences that come with them,” Leake said. “We must create long-term solutions for addressing and ending the inequities that we have always known to exist, which have been brought to the forefront in this pandemic, and combat the structural factors that prevent mostly Black and brown students from receiving equitable educational opportunities.”