EDITORIAL: The details of going back to school in a complex age



As back-to-school headlines arrived this past week, a cluster of stories stood out. The topics illustrate the complexity of caring for kids in a pandemic.

From early childhood programs to college level, educators and others involved with school planning have worked to create safe, welcoming environments conducive to learning.

The challenges are significant. From masks to vaccine policies to better building ventilation systems, there’s a lot going on.

These issues ultimately are about individuals, their mental and physical health. Their potential to learn and succeed.  

There is a critical need for leadership and perseverance along with a commitment to allocating the time and money, to get on top of the situation. 

In a recent Record-Journal story, Tina Valentin, director of child care operations for the Meriden-New Britain-Berlin YMCA, talked about the impact of the pandemic and voiced concerns similar to other area childcare providers. She’s dealing with staff shortages, the need to implement vaccine policies and, of course, the constant question about whether children will have to wear masks.

Some staff have left, fearful of working with unvaccinated kids. There’s also a state requirement that staff be vaccinated or submit a weekly COVID-19 test. It all adds weight to recruitment woes.

Valentin is pursuing a solution to one of her concerns. She wants to get clear masks for staff so children can see their facial expressions.

“These poor kids have never seen a smile on our face,” Valentin told the Record-Journal. “When you are an infant or a toddler, that’s what you’re looking for. That’s how you learn about people and how to navigate the world.”

Area colleges and universities are adjusting to new realities, too, as the fall semester begins. 

State university and college campuses, Quinnipiac University and the University of Hartford all have implemented strict policies regarding mandated vaccination for students and employees. Enforcing these rules means taking a tough stance. For example, at Quinnipiac, residential students who did not upload their necessary vaccination or exemption records were not allowed to move into university housing.

There’s also a major infrastructure issue looming for Covid management in our schools.

An Associated Press story looked at how schools around the state want to upgrade aging ventilation systems to improve air quality as a way to control the airborne spread of COVID-19.

The problem is finding funds to fix those old systems as federal pandemic relief money may not cover the cost. The Connecticut Mirror reports a state policy restricts aid for heating, air conditioning and air quality control projects. The policy could be reviewed by legislators, but likely not before the 2022 General Assembly session in February.

That’s six months before the legislature even considers talking about a fix.

In general, towns are expected to fund smaller projects such as HVAC upgrades. But given the new urgency of airborne disease, we must find the political will to move beyond whatever encumbrances are in the way.

A lot of work has been done to get schools back on track and the efforts of educators, along with city and health officials, should be appreciated. Sometimes a simple approach like a clear mask for a teacher can go a long way towards making things better. Sometimes, it’s more complicated. But either way, we need leaders and a cooperative spirit to find solutions.



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