Senator and Educators Discussed Wide Range of Topics, Including Broadband Access, Meeting Special Education Needs, and Reopening in the Fall
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan spoke with New Hampshire educators over video conference today about the challenges that both teachers and students are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including broadband access, meeting special education needs, and reopening in the fall.
"Thank you for the work you've done as educators, I can only begin to imagine what the last several months have been like as educators - and as people who have your own personal lives and family obligations to balance through this difficult time," Senator Hassan said.
During the discussion, educators across the state shared challenges with the lack of reliable broadband access for remote learning.
“One of the major issues we've had has been with remote learning is Wi-Fi access,” said Tracy Locke, a social studies teacher at Lisbon Regional School. “I have students in my classes that go and sit for an hour in a vehicle at the local library or someplace like that because internet access is so random here, and it’s actually quite poor in some spots.”
Senator Hassan, who recently joined in introducing legislation to help get Wi-Fi hotspots and other internet connectivity devices to students, shared, "The pandemic has laid bare the digital divide in very stark ways – as it has laid bare a whole lot of other kinds of disparities, including the fact that the impacts of remote learning are disproportionally impacting students of color and [students who are] low-income.”
The participants also discussed the challenges in meeting the needs of some students, including students with disabilities.
“I am so hoping that districts and towns and parents and everybody sees the important work that our [Education Support Professionals] do in our schools, because when budget cuts come those are the first to go,” said Megan Tuttle, President of NEA-New Hampshire. “And unfortunately they work the closest with a lot of our kids...I'm really afraid those jobs are going to go away because they’re easy to just let go.”
Deb Howes, a teacher at Amherst Street Elementary School in Nashua, echoed a similar sentiment, “I can't tell you how many [special education teachers] I've talked to on the phone who were in tears because they weren't able to meet their students’ needs remotely."
This week, Senator Hassan participated in a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing where she discussed the importance of ensuring that students who experience disabilities have the same educational opportunities as their peers. During the hearing, the Senator highlighted the need for Congress to provide additional funds to schools through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Carrie Feyler, a technology teacher for the Rochester School District, also talked about the challenges to reopening schools in the fall, especially for younger students: "I worry about the reality of the guidelines…there isn't six feet of space in a classroom to put all the desks. Kids don't sit in their own desk all day long anymore, that's not elementary school in 2020. They're moving, they're going, they're all over the place."
The participants also discussed the importance of providing mental and behavioral health support to students, an issue that has become increasingly important as the pandemic has upended children’s routines and daily lives. Senator Hassan recently joined her colleagues in calling for robust funding for children’s behavioral health care in upcoming COVID-19 response legislation.