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Justice in the Classroom, Concerns Over School Air Quality, + ‘Right to Read’ Movement Growing

This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. On the roster this week: Justice in the Classroom, Concerns Over School Air Quality, and ‘Right to Read’ Movement Growing Nationally

Justice Starts in the Classroom

A couple of weeks ago, we explored CTNewsJunkie's coverage of recently released data from the Center for Public Integrity regarding the school-to-prison pipeline. The analysis illustrated that school referrals to the police are at double the rate for Black students and students with disabilities. Nevertheless, Bob Stefanowski, a likely gubernatorial candidate for the GOP, has called for harsher discipline for youth who commit crimes—glomming onto a Republican talking point that violence and theft are up in this state.

On Thursday, Amy published her response. In an opinion for the CT Post, she unpacks research from civil rights organizations about the discriminatory impact of placing harsher legal consequences on minors. Given the year and a half students have just been through, she asks, why not invest in strategies that focus on their potential in the classroom, rather than on consequences in the courtroom? It's a theme that has since been picked up by columnist Hugh Bailey, whose Sunday piece charged Republicans with "trying to talk a crime wave into existence"—and argued that their proposals aren't supported by the evidence.

Growing Concerns Over School Air Quality

Early this year, our affiliate, Education Reform Now CT, offered guidance on how the state can make the most of federal COVID relief funds by meeting the needs of students now while also ensuring a long-term impact. Included was an endorsement for investing in the health and safety of school facilities (eg: here and here). This month, however, CT Public Radio has reported on an increase in the number of educators who file workers' compensation cases related to poor air quality in their schools. As the CT Mirror observes, poor air quality can create lifelong health issues for both students and school staff.

In the face of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that good ventilation is important to reducing the spread of COVID-19 within classrooms. But the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Council of Small Towns, joined by the state's two largest teacher unions, released a list on Thursday of 11 communities facing vast expenses as they attempt to upgrade their schools' air quality systems—a cost that the state expects to be borne locally.

The Lamont administration has pointed to a historical failing by local officials to prioritize regular maintenance of school HVAC systems. Others say it's less a maintenance issue than a need to upgrade outdated technology.

CT Students Have a Right to Read. Shouldn’t ALL Students?

On Friday, Jessica Giles, the State Director for Education Reform Now D.C., published an opinion in The 74, calling on D.C. to undertake a literacy initiative similar to the one recently passed in Connecticut. The District of Columbia is already a recipient of the federal Comprehensive Literacy Plan grant—funding for which Connecticut should also be poised to apply soon. So far, Giles says that D.C. has a strategy in place for high-impact tutoring and trains over 100 teachers per year in structured literacy. But she urges the district to follow in the footsteps of states like Mississippi and Connecticut by requiring all elementary schools to teach structured literacy, as well as by providing comprehensive training and support to all current educators. “This kind of bold, immediate action cannot be limited to a small selection of states, just as it cannot be limited to a few public school districts within a state,” she writes. “To build just and equitable opportunities for all students, there must be a national movement that demands the right to read for every student across this country.”

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