Protecting Vulnerable Kids, New England School Chiefs, Back-to-School Week


Centralized Oversight to Protect Vulnerable Kids

Over the past week, two high profile incidents have demonstrated the importance of centralized oversight when it comes to protecting vulnerable students. The US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has opened an investigation into the Farmington School District—following allegations that the district failed to protect some of its LGBTQ students from patterns of discrimination. According to the Hartford Courant's coverage on Sunday, the OCR is looking into several reported incidents of harassment regarding students' gender identity or sexual orientation, as well as deadnaming, throughout the year. The story tracks two LGBTQ students in Farmington and their respective families, as they describe contending with the district’s responses to harassment and bullying.

CT News Junkie this week also covered a state-level investigation into allegations of mistreatment of a developmentally disabled child by a Hartford paraprofessional. The Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) notified Hartford Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez in April that the OCA had received multiple complaints alleging emotional and physical abuse of the child in question, as well as claims that the child's academic needs were also not being met. The accused paraprofessional apparently acknowledged that she was not appropriately briefed on the child's needs or trained in how to work with the child. “Critical to preventing mistreatment of children with disabilities is ensuring that staff are adequately trained and supervised," Child Advocate Sarah Eagan is quoted as saying. The district has agreed to take corrective action.

As we gear up for a new school year, these stories of unfair treatment can feel disheartening, especially after all that children have gone through during the pandemic. But it’s helpful to know that there are state and federal agencies explicitly dedicated to the protection of students’ rights.

New England School Chiefs Collaborate on College and Career Pathways

According to the Boston Globe’s reporting, US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Connecticut Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker were both among the attendees at a "Reimagining Education & New England's Workforce" summit in Rhode Island on Monday. The regional event was focused on accelerating student learning and building college and career pathways. The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) tweeted a photo of the resultant joint resolution yesterday—including signatories from top officials at education departments in each of the New England states. The resolution acknowledges the benefits of interstate collaboration and commits each state to participating in: (1) efforts to share best practices on accelerating student learning and building pathways for college and careers; as well as (2) work to engage businesses, higher education, state and local officials, and community leaders in furtherance of these efforts.

Commissioner Russell-Tucker on Back-to-School Week

It’s back-to-school season. On Wednesday, according to a WFSB article, Commissioner Russell-Tucker hosted an event for Connecticut superintendents in Berlin. Dr. Bernard A. Harris, Jr., former NASA Astronaut and executive director of the National Math and Science Initiative, gave the keynote. The agenda also included Governor Lamont, Connecticut Board of Education Chair Karen Dubois-Walton, and Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents Executive Director Fran Rabinowitz. Among many notable comments, Commissioner Russell-Tucker applauded district-level work to administer state assessments in 2020 and 2021. Together with data from the current year's assessment, those pieces of information should help the state to identify practices that have worked throughout the pandemic and to target support where it’s needed most. She also shared seven top priorities for the CSDE, which include:

  1. Celebrating districts' success stories;

  2. Healthy learning, including supports to help districts mitigate the risk of respiratory diseases;

  3. Promoting social, emotional, and mental health of students and staff;

  4. Providing access to high-quality curricula through platforms like the CT Learning Hub;

  5. Supporting educator recruitment through programs like the Northeastern States Enhanced Educator Certification Reciprocity Policy, which has already resulted in over 400 certifications since April;

  6. Expanding students' access to college and career readiness opportunities; and

  7. Enhancing the state's commitment to literacy by offering the Science of Reading Masterclass to more districts in the coming school year. (The professional development and coaching opportunity on K-3 literacy instruction is strategically tied to Connecticut's newly passed "Right to Read” legislation.)

See the CSDE’s press statement for details, or watch the full event here.

In a Connecticut Public Radio story yesterday, Russell-Tucker joked that Connecticut educators have minored in epidemiology over the past two years. But now that we've learned so much about how to keep schools safe, she said, "let's get on with the learning.” Bring on the 2022-23 school year!

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