The state of Connecticut issued an executive order to shut down all services towards the end of March 2020, including schools, in order to protect the health and safety of students, educators, and families across the state. As the 2020-21 school year began, remote and hybrid learning models were recommended to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Students finished the 2019-20 school year at home and seniors graduated online without the fanfare and celebration of this life achievement - while also stepping into a world filled with uncertainty. In quarantine, parents and caregivers struggled to help their children with at-home learning while trying to continue to work to provide for their families. For so many, the uncertainty of the situation was even more precarious. Through it all, how did the Bridgeport Public School District cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and transition into the 2020-21 school year?

The following charts and graphs will illustrate the social, emotional, mental, physical and academic impact of COVID-19 on our students, families and educators. We would also like to thank our parents, educators, and administrators for doing all they could to educate our Bridgeport youth during such a challenging and difficult time.

During the 2020-21 school year, 19,449 students were enrolled in the Bridgeport Public School (BPS) district. Below are composition breakdowns of the students that encompass the BPS district population.

BRIDGEPORT PUBLIC SCHOOLS COMPOSITION, 2020-21
FIGURE 1. BPS PROFILE OF STUDENTS BY GRADE, RACE AND ETHNICITY, AND ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNER STATUS, 2020-21i

Out of Bridgeport Public Schools’ 19,449 students, 19% have a special education status and 20% are English language learners.

The following data sets analyze BPS students and aspects such as COVID-19 cases in schools, predominant learning models, attendance, social and emotional learning, and more quantitatively speak to the story of how the virus and subsequent pandemic changed Bridgeport’s landscape of learning and rates of progress. Already compounded with educational inequities within one of the richest counties in the United States, COVID-19 exacerbated these disproportions and influenced several declines measured in the below categories. As the 2021-22 school year begins, how can this data better inform educators, school administrators, policy makers, and families when making educational decisions about our children’s futures? How can students themselves contribute?

POSITIVE COVID-19 CASES IN BPS DIDN’T REACH BEYOND SIX IN ANY GIVEN WEEK
FIGURE 2. COVID-19 CASES BY EACH BRIDGEPORT PUBLIC SCHOOL, 2020-21ii

During the 2020-21 school year, the reported BPS student COVID-19 cases fluctuated between 0 and under 6 throughout the course of the school year with the exception of two public schools each recording 6 positive COVID-19 cases during the beginning of 2021. All cases under 6 are grouped together to protect student confidentiality. The 2019-20 school year is not shown because all in person classes statewide were canceled mid-March and classes remained remote for the remainder of the school year.

FAIRFIELD COUNTY COVID-19 RATES VARY DRAMATICALLY FOR STUDENTS WEEK-BY-WEEK
FIGURE 3. COVID-19 RATES FOR STUDENTS BY COUNTY, 2020-21

The majority of students who tested positive for COVID-19 occurred when students were in school learning (39% for Fairfield County), followed by hybrid cases (35%). Students testing positive for COVID-19 in Fairfield County fluctuated sharply between the holiday months of November to January, reaching its highest peak of 482 (49% of which were remote status students) in the first two weeks that followed the holiday school break. This after holiday spike occurred in Hartford and New Haven counties as well.

BPS DISTRICT HAS MOSTLY HYBRID STUDENTS THROUGHOUT 2020-21
FIGURE 4. PREDOMINANT LEARNING MODELS BY SCHOOL DISTRICT, STATEWIDE, 2020-21

Bridgeport was one of several public school districts in Connecticut that instituted a mostly hybrid learning environment as its predominant learning model throughout the 2020-21 school year. Other city public school districts such as Hartford and Waterbury toggled between in person classes and either fully remote or hybrid learning models throughout the school year.

PRE-KINDERGARTEN THROUGH 8TH GRADE STUDENTS STARTED 2020-21 IN PERSON
FIGURE 5. PREDOMINANT LEARNING MODELS BY GRADE, BPS, 2020-21

From the beginning of the 2020-21 school year until after winter break, BPS students in pre-kindergarten to 8th grade shifted the most between competing learning models. Only from November 30th, 2020 through January 8th, 2021 were all grades fully remote.

ALL BRIDGEPORT PUBLIC SCHOOLS RECORDED DECREASES IN STUDENT ATTENDANCE
FIGURE 6. STUDENT ATTENDANCE RATE CHANGE BY EACH BRIDGEPORT PUBLIC SCHOOL, 2019-21

Between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, all Bridgeport Public Schools recorded a decrease in student attendance rates. By 2020-21, schools were just beginning to grapple with instituting new learning models and the issue of keeping students in masks for over six hours. The highest drops in attendance rates were for elementary and middle schools.

ANALYZING IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON STUDENT ATTENDANCE BY RACE
FIGURE 7. ATTENDANCE RATES BY RACE, 2019-21

BPS recorded the lowest drop in attendance from 2019-20 to 2020-21 (1%) for students of all races when compared to the other four largest school districts in CT. When analyzing attendance rates by the above public school district’s most populated races, Black or African American BPS students recorded the highest decrease in attendance at 5%, followed by Hispanic/Latino students (4%), then white students (2%). Compared to other city school districts, BPS places third for the highest percentage decrease in attendance when examining attendance data by race.

THE HIGHEST DROPS IN ATTENDANCE RATES WERE FOR ELEMENTARY AND MIDDLE SCHOOLS.

ANALYZING IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON STUDENT ATTENDANCE BY RISK GROUP
FIGURE 8. ATTENDANCE RATES BY RISK GROUPS, 2019-21

Students experiencing homelessness and students with disabilities recorded the largest decreases in attendance from 2019-20 to 2020-21 for all city public school districts listed above, as well as CT as a whole. Within the BPS district, students experiencing homelessness had both the lowest rate of attendance and the largest decrease in attendance rate out of any other risk group.

BRIDGEPORT RECORDS THIRD-HIGHEST RATE OF CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM
FIGURE 9. CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM BY CT MAJOR CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, 2020-21iii

Beyond basic absenteeism, the CT State Department of Education tracks students who are considered chronically absent, and extremely chronically absent. In 2020-21, Bridgeport ranked third out of 5 of CT’s major public school districts for the highest number of students considered chronically absent and extremely chronically absent. It should be noted, however, that BPS’ extreme chronically absent students is averaged at less than 1%.

DISCIPLINE RATES DECREASE DRAMATICALLY INTO 2019-20
FIGURE 10. BPS DISCIPLINE RATES, 2015-21iv

Since 2015, BPS has prioritized decreasing out-of-school and in-school suspensions (OSS, ISS)v. Since then, the district has recorded a steady decline in both OSS and ISS as well as expulsions. The 2019-20 school year expectantly chronicled a substantial decrease in OSS and ISS (41% and 35%, respectively) from 2018-19, however BPS recorded a 20% increase in expulsions.

ACADEMIC ENGAGEMENT OF 3-8TH GRADERS DECREASES AS COVID-19 PANDEMIC HITS
FIGURE 11. ACADEMIC ENGAGEMENT, SCHOOL CLIMATE SURVEY RESULTS BY GRADE GROUP, 2018-21vi

During Fall 2020, the majority of students in grades 3-12 self-reported to have positive perceptions of academic engagement in Bridgeport public schools. Perceptions for grades 3-8 for the Fall 2020 semester were the highest recorded since surveying students began in the spring of 2015vii. In Spring 2021, each grade grouping’s perceptions of academic engagement declined 5% except for 9-12th graders (a 1% increase).
Although we cannot say with certainty that COVID-19 and its effects were the cause of the downward shift from Fall 2020 to Spring 2021 scores, the back and forth shifts in predominant learning models, learning from home under new and sometimes difficult constraints, and the cost to human health and life that the coronavirus caused, cannot be ignored as possibly impeding academic engagement and the other social and emotional learning (SEL) categories and subsequent rates discussed in this report.

EMOTIONAL CLIMATE RISES FOR 9-12TH GRADERS AFTER COVID-19 PANDEMIC BEGINS
FIGURE 12. EMOTIONAL CLIMATE, SCHOOL CLIMATE SURVEY RESULTS BY GRADE GROUP, 2018-21

As we have seen in the academic engagement category, grades 3-8 reported the largest number of positive perceptions of emotional climate at Bridgeport Public Schools since SEL surveying began in 2015. Although when surveyed in the spring of 2021viii , perceptions in both grade groups 3-5 and 6-8 declined 6%. 9-12th grade perceptions however continued to rise, increasing a slight 3% from Fall 2020 to Spring 2021. Other than a brief period during the holiday season when all grades were educated remotely, 9-12th graders were educated in a fully hybrid learning model throughout the school year, unlike pre-kindergarten through grade 8 that were subjected to more shifting between in person and hybrid models.

PERSONAL SAFETY IMPROVES AS STUDENTS LEARNED EITHER REMOTELY OR ENGAGED IN HYBRID LEARNING
FIGURE 13. PERSONAL SAFETY, SCHOOL CLIMATE SURVEY RESULTS BY GRADE GROUP, 2018-21

Students’ perceptions of personal safety as a component of SEL have gradually increased over the last 3 school years at BPS. While averaging in the 70% range since Fall 2019, positive student reflections on personal safety persisted into Spring 2021 for all grades and reached a peak of 76% for grades 6-12th.

MAJORITY OF STUDENTS’ SENSE OF BELONGING TAKES A DOWNTURN IN SPRING 2021 SURVEY
FIGURE 14. SENSE OF BELONGING, SCHOOL CLIMATE SURVEY RESULTS BY GRADE GROUP, 2018-21

Students’ perceptions of their sense of belonging at BPS decreased for every grade group when surveyed after the pandemic except for 9-12th graders. Since students began answering this category of questions in 2016, perceptions have gradually increased over the school years (except for a 1% decrease for 6-8th graders in Spring 2019). Fall 2020 to Spring 2021 recorded the largest difference in sense of belonging, settling at a 10% decrease for grades 3-8. 9-12th graders’ perceptions of their sense of belonging increased 5%.

POSITIVE STUDENT-TEACHER TRUST PERCEPTIONS DROP, HOWEVER ENDURE AT HIGH AVERAGES
FIGURE 15. STUDENT-TEACHER TRUST, SCHOOL CLIMATE SURVEY RESULTS BY GRADE GROUP, 2018-21

The category of student-teacher trust was another SEL component that declined for most students when surveyed after the COVID-19 pandemic. Progressively rising since surveys began going back to Spring 2015, Spring 2021 recorded a 2% decrease for 3-5th graders, a 3% decrease for 6-8th graders, and no change for 9-12th graders. It is worth noting however that although perceptions of student-teacher trust have declined, this category exists at relatively high averages (91%, 88%, and 89% in Spring 2021 for each categorical grade grouping).

BPS GRADUATION RATES SLIGHTLY SCALE BACK TO 2017-18
FIGURE 16. BPS GRADUATION RATES, 2016-20IX

The rates of BPS students who have graduated on-time within the traditional 4-year time frame have been on the rise since the class of 2015. However, graduation rates have decreased slightly at 2% from 2018-19 to 2019-20. After years of steady increases, declines in graduations for this time period have also taken place for students with special education status and those identified as having a high needs statusx.

FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN CAN BE DEBILITATING BUT THE SPIRIT IS RESILIENT AND POWERFUL

As 2020 approached, the talk of a new and very contagious virus spreading across the world was alarming for everyone. When the virus reached the United States, fears spread and restrictions were put in place aimed at protecting individual and community health. All non-essential businesses were required to shut down, including schools. Here in Bridgeport and the surrounding communities, the news was frightening and confusing all at the same time. Students, families, teachers, and administrators were forced to pivot and transition to online remote learning for the unforeseeable future. In order to more thoroughly understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education in the local community, it was crucial to hear directly from those impacted. When interviewing students, parents, and grandparents, the overarching message was clear: this past year created immense challenges for all.

One grandmother, when asked by BCAC how she would describe her grandson’s transition to online schooling, stated: “it was shocking”. Her young grandchild did not understand why he was not able to go to school and see his friends. When the option to return to school in person or stay remote became available, the grandmother expressed that it was, “an easy decision”. The best option for her grandson was to return to in person classes so that he could have the social connection he needed.

A high school senior, who was a sophomore when the COVID-19 pandemic caused a shutdown of schools in Connecticut, reflected on her experience: she reported that the transition to online learning was difficult, specifically because the return to in person classes was so uncertain. This student described feeling sad and scared when reports of school shutdowns changed from “two weeks off to never going back”. Additionally, she discussed feelings of loneliness due to the lack of social interactions. This was a devastating time for students who were social and involved in extracurricular activities. She has since returned to school in person for senior year and hopes to get back into sports and to rebuild her social network.

interactions. This was a devastating time for students who were social and involved in extracurricular activities. She has since returned to school in person for senior year and hopes to get back into sports and to rebuild her social network.

When asked to reflect on remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, one mother said that the transition to online learning was very difficult because no one seemed to “know what was going on or what the future held.” At a time when fear spread like wildfire, so did misunderstandings and misinformation. She said that it was difficult to remain calm and explain to her child what was going on when she didn’t even know herself. She described seeing her child struggle to adjust to online learning and the absence of social connection with her peers and the outside world. This mother, who strives to make life safe and worry-free for her daughter, described to BCAC the difficulty in processing the worry that her daughter was experiencing. One positive observation this mother had was seeing how the community came together during difficult times. Today, she reports that although she faced many challenges over the past year or so, she has learned that Bridgeport is stronger than we know; Bridgeport is resilient.

Since 2015, BPS has made great progress in important issue areas such as decreasing discipline rates, improving school climate, and nurturing socially and emotionally healthy students as well as academic ones. Unfortunately, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been setbacks in a few key areas (computer access and usability, internet access, parents not being able to provide the same learning support when also working from home, and more) that everyone is working hard to address so that the advances we have seen over the last several years continues.

All of our students, educators, and families have rallied together during these difficult times to overcome the challenges and implement best practices each and every day. As the start of the 2021-22 school year proceeds, the Bridgeport community is committed now more than ever to creating emotionally, mentally, behaviorally, socially, and physically healthy environments both in and out of school. Given the unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we hope that the experience and learnings we have uncovered will set us up to be better prepared to provide an immediate response to limit the decline in learning loss. We will continue to strive to provide the resources and supports necessary to educate our Bridgeport youth at the highest level.