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Lamont visits Saint Bernard School in Montville

Montville — Saint Bernard welcomed Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday in an event highlighting the release of COVID-19 relief funds to private and parochial schools.

The private Catholic school was surprised to learn Monday that Connecticut’s governor would be visiting, school administrators said. Lamont toured the school before heading to the auditorium for a town hall-style discussion with students. He then took questions from the news media.

Lamont addressed the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency approval allowing use of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for youths aged 12-15. He said it was his “hunch” that the first 12- to 15-year-olds in Connecticut would receive vaccinations as early as Wednesday.

“We’re working with all of our schools around the state, notifying the schools and making sure parents are notified to get their kids vaccinated,” he said. “We’re keeping our mass vaccination centers open, so it’s easier for a parent to drive their kid there. We think this weekend will be a very popular time to do that, and there’s no shortage of Pfizer vaccines, so I’d like to think that we can get the vast majority of folks 12-15 vaccinated in time for summer camp.”

The governor also spoke of why he chose to visit.

“I wanted to come to Saint Bernard in part because this is a school that’s stayed open from the very beginning,” he said. “I love our parochial schools — most of them stayed open throughout the entire pandemic and made an extra effort in terms of masks and sanitation to convince parents and students they could do it safely, and they did it safely.”

Diocese of Norwich Bishop Michael Cote thanked the governor for his administration’s special attention to parochial schools during remarks ahead of the governor’s back-and-forth with students.

“You made my life, and the life of this diocese, easier throughout this past year because of your guidance,” Cote said. “You were prudent, but you made it possible for all of my schools to remain open, with few incidences, and my churches to remain open, so I’m extremely grateful for the leadership that you demonstrated during this very unusual and stressful year.”

Lamont also went into detail about the $15.8 million the Connecticut State Department of Education is distributing to private and parochial schools through the federal Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools program.

“That all goes to COVID-related expenses, same as they have in the public schools,” he said. “But COVID can be related to learning loss, it can be related to social and emotional learning, it can be related to ventilation systems, it can be related to wraparound services and summer learning camps, so there’s a lot of flexibility with this money, and I’m really proud Saint Bernard is eligible.”

During his tour of the school, Lamont stopped in at the library and multiple classrooms, telling students to get vaccinated. At one point, he heard from a particularly vocal, younger student who said he should get rid of masks, to which he replied, “It’s coming,” and that “COVID ruins everything,” though, “Not for long, it’s going to be a good summer.”

He also took over the school’s PA system for about a minute to greet students.

“This is not an emergency, this is a happy message. I just wanted to give my best to all the Saints,” he said. “I’m here at your beautiful school today. Maybe for some of you I’m interrupting exams, and others of you are having a really nice lunch, but I’m just so proud of this school. I know what a tough year it’s been, but I’m here to say thanks to each and every one of the students, faculty, teachers and your parents to show that we can get through this COVID together.”

s.spinella@theday.com

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