UCONN JOURNALISM

AUGUST 2019 - MAY 2022

Paycheck Protection Program Doles Out Millions To Private Schools

Thirty Connecticut private schools obtained more government-funded coronavirus relief in 2020 than the public school districts in which they reside, according to new data revealing pandemic-driven inequities in the state's K-12 education system.

More than 200 private schools in Connecticut accepted $96 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, according to Small Business Administration data. The top 10 private school PPP recipients acquired more than a quarter of this money, with loan totals amounting to nearly $27 million.

In early August, Gov. Ned Lamont announced a $266 million package for public schools financed by state and federal money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund, Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief. As of August 27, the state has distributed $231 million of this funding across 199 school districts.

Twenty-four districts received $22,000 to $2.5 million less covid-relief funding than private schools located in their towns, according to data from the Connecticut Department of Education. The districts with the largest discrepancies include West Hartford, Greenwich, Salisbury, Avon, New Milford and Pomfret.

A handful of Connecticut schools charge private tuition and operate as a partially public institution, with tax-payers funding tuition for students from a select group of towns. These schools' semi-private status allowed them to double-dip in PPP loans and public school COVID funds.

Norwich Free Academy, which accepted the second-largest private school PPP loan in the state, secured $4.5 million in loans and an additional $1.2 million in funding reserved for public schools, bringing its total COVID-19 relief to $5.7 million. The Woodstock Academy gained a total of $2.5 million: $2.3 million from PPP loans and $200,000 from the Governor's public school fund. Woodstock collected the fifth-largest private school PPP loan in Connecticut.

During the first round of PPP last spring, the SBA approved 5.2 million PPP loans totaling $525 billion. This week, applications for first-draw PPP loans reopened. According to the SBA, businesses of less than 300 employees, including private schools, can now apply for a second PPP loan of up to $2 million if they have used or will use all of their first PPP loan and “Can demonstrate at least a 25% reduction in gross receipts between comparable quarters in 2019 and 2020.”

Rick Branson, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools, represents 93 non-profit private schools. Branson said that 70 percent of these schools operate under a deficit due to costs and economic losses from the pandemic.

When schools shut down in March, many private schools agreed to tuition rebates and room and board refunds. Branson said that PPP loans allowed private schools to pay faculty through the summer when schools could not tap into restricted endowments. Many private schools said that PPP money also helped free-up funds for technology and safety equipment.

Public schools continue to struggle with financial shortfalls caused by the pandemic. According to school budgets from across the state, many districts that implemented layoffs and hiring freezes remain in the red as costs associated with technology, sanitation and personal protective equipment grow.

Avon Old Farms School, an all-boys boarding school with an endowment of more than $90 million and 410 students, obtained the third-largest PPP loan of $2.6 million. By contrast, Avon public schools, with over 3,000 students, acquired $122,000 in COVID relief funding. Broken down by student, Avon Old Farms secured nearly $6,400 per student. Avon Public schools received $39.

The private school with the largest per-student funding is the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford. The school’s per-pupil funding from PPP loans is nearly $33,000 per student. The American School for the Deaf has 138 students, an endowment of $43 million, and the largest PPP loan out of any Connecticut private school with more than $4.5 million.

While federal funding provided private schools with millions, other businesses struggled to get a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program. Ashley Harrington, federal advocacy director of the Center for Responsible Lending said that the PPP loans predominantly funded wealthier companies and institutions. She said that the elite private schools, with greater access to banks, likely had an easier time obtaining PPP loans.

“The CARES Act package and this program illustrate that the federal government will spend when it wants to, but also it continues to make us feel like we have to make tradeoffs,” Harrington said. “If the tradeoff was between giving [public] schools enough money for PPE and giving an extra $300 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, that ended up going into the hands of private schools [...], then why was that the tradeoff?”

Harrington said the first round of PPP legislation lacked federal guidance on how lenders should assist underserved populations including, rural businesses and businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans. Additionally, barriers in the lending and administrative processes hindered black small business owners from obtaining loans before the PPP money ran dry, Harrington said.

Harrington said that the latest PPP legislation includes provisions that aid minority communities such as demographic data collection, streamlined loan forgiveness, $15 billion for Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions, and a new fee structure that no longer incentivizes lenders to pursue larger loans from wealthier businesses. Despite these improvements, Harrington said more reform and funding is necessary to help small and minority-owned businesses during this time.

Choate Rosemary Hall, an elite boarding school in Wallingford with an alumni list including President John F. Kennedy and an endowment of more than $588 million, received approval for a PPP loan between $5 and $10 million but declined to accept the money.

Alison Cady, Choate’s director of communications, said that the school applied for the PPP loans when Congress rolled out the program. They withdrew their application after reviewing the program’s terms and intended beneficiaries.

“As we learned more about it, we realized that it wasn’t designed or really intended for organizations like ours that do have a fundraising function,” Cady said. “We wanted to make sure that money was allocated where it was truly needed, which seemed to be for smaller businesses.”


Note: The interview with Rick Branson, executive director, CT Association of Independent Schools was conducted by Prof. Mike Stanton. The interview with Alison Cady, Choate’s director of communications, was conducted by Danny Barletta.

  • Information on private schools that received more than $150,000 in PPP loans was accessed here from the SBA database.

  • Information on private schools that received less than $150,000 in PPP loans was accessed here from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

  • Information on public school district funding was accessed using data from the Connecticut Department of Education published in this Patch.com article.

  • Private school endowments were found using the most recent forms 990 available.

  • Public school per-student funding calculations were made using 2018-2019 Profile and Performance Reports for each district.

  • Private school per-student funding calculations were made using student information available on the private school’s website.

  • Other data and calculations can be found in the spreadsheets in this folder.

Decades After War, Vietnam Veterans Continue The Fight Against PTSD

John Holder left Vietnam in 1968. But, as many veterans know, it is hard to ever truly “leave.” Sitting in his therapist’s office, over 40 years later, the brutal scenes of war came rushing back to Holder in a vivid flashback that left the 73-year-old Silver Star and Purple Heart recipient in tears.

“I was there; I could see everything, I could see everybody. [...] I started to come back to where I was sitting, but at the same time, I was still in Vietnam in my brain,” Holder said. “I just totally lost it right there. I was a mess. And about 10, 15 minutes later, I got up out of the chair, and I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. We’re done.’”

Holder is one of the estimated 795,500 Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to data from the National Center for PTSD. The psychological experiences of aging veterans serve as a reminder that the fight continues decades after leaving battle.

To this day, Holder, a Pawcatuck, Connecticut local, describes “seeping” into his emotional state from Vietnam.

“I don’t like that. It’s not often, but occasionally that does come back. There’s things in there that...” Holder motions towards the back of his head, drawing a circle with his hand. He pauses. His eyes shift to the ground, back up, and down again. He tosses his hand to the side. “Enough of that.”

If there is one thing that Holder does not like to show, it’s vulnerability. He said the Vietnam War taught him to “fear nothing.”

He talks about saving fellow-soldiers, assuming the jobs too dangerous for anybody else to want, surviving an enemy ambush—stories that would seem boastful coming from anybody else, but from Holder, they sound humble.

When Holder shifts the narrative to his return home, the bullet-proof soldier changes into a man battling with the transition to civilian life. For three years, nightmares of combat plagued Holder’s sleep. Six nights a week, he would suddenly wake up in a sweat. Walking down the street in Brooklyn, New York, Holder dropped to the ground when a car backfired.

Despite a later PTSD diagnosis, Holder received little assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“When I went to the VA [they said], I’ve never beat my wife, I don’t have a criminal record, I can hold a job, I can have friends, and I can sit here and talk to you—‘So you’re ok, get out,’” Holder said.

Some veterans who struggle with PTSD experience difficulty receiving services. But for those who qualify, therapy can prove transformative. 71-year-old Vietnam veteran, Kenneth Ryba, said his New Jersey, VA-sponsored Vet Center changed his life.

“I’m one of those Vietnam statistics; I’m divorced, I have very few friends. I didn’t talk to nobody about it,” Ryba said in an interview with Carol Fowler for the Library of Congress American Folklife Center’s Veterans History Project. “Through the Vet Center, they really educated me. I learned a lot. I’m a much better person today because of it. Otherwise, I’d probably be a real statistic by today: [in] jail, dead, something.”

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 11,000 veterans were at high risk for suicide last year. In 2017, veteran suicide rates compared to non-veteran civilians were 2.2 times greater for women and 1.3 times greater for men. That year, 6,139 veterans committed suicide, according to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.

Chelsea Morales, a doctor of psychology and clinician at the Post Traumatic Stress Center in New Haven, Connecticut, serves victims of childhood trauma, sexual assault, physical and emotional abuse, car and workplace accidents, and veterans.

Morales specializes in a treatment called trauma-centered psychotherapy. She addresses, in detail, the thoughts, feelings and connections between life events to determine the critical parts of traumatic episodes.

“Trauma is everything you want to talk about, but also the last thing that you want to talk about,” Morales said. “From the moment that the person comes in the door, [I am] going into very in-depth detail with them, gathering a really clear picture of what exactly happened, but not just what happened, what they feared would happen.”

She said patients exhibit symptoms of depression, suicidal thoughts, nightmares, inability to trust, high levels of guilt and shame, and avoidance of situations related to past traumas. The increased stress, loss of control and predictability, and grief and isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic lead to relapses of PTSD, Morales said.

Along with previous exposure to trauma, Morales said that the way friends and family react to stories of high-stress events can indicate whether a person develops PTSD.

“We call it the ‘homecoming experience’ but what it is essentially is, ‘What was the message that you received when you first disclosed your trauma to someone?’” Morales said. “How it’s received by people when they come home, how it’s received by the mental health professionals that they encounter when they come back from being deployed—all these things matter in terms of whether or not this person develops PTSD, and [...] how long the healing process may take.”

Ryba experienced a dueling homecoming. A mass of anti-war protestors met his airplane in Oakland, California shouting, “Baby killer!” But when Ryba reached New Jersey, his loved ones celebrated.

Surrounded by a wealth of friends and family, a ‘Welcome Home’ banner above his head, the jungles of Vietnam remained fresh in Ryba’s memory, along with the friends left behind. For the following 25 years, the war haunted Ryba, and he became numb to everything.

“I knew I was safe; I was home. But I knew there was going to be a lot more death,” Ryba said, wiping tears from his eyes.

Along with therapy, Ryba said he healed survivor’s guilt through remembrance. He frequently visits Vietnam War memorials, donates to memorial funds, and lays flowers on his church altar for those he lost. For Ryba’s best friend Johnny, who was killed-in-action in 1968, Ryba tends his grave.

“As long as I’m alive, I’m going to take care of Johnny’s grave,” Ryba said. “When I pass on, I believe in my heart that my daughter will do the same. And I hope I teach my grandchild to do the same once she’s gone, [...] and I know in my heart he will.”

The Battle Over Transgender Participation In High School Sports

The starting gun fires. Eights sets of cleats beat against the rust-colored rubber in a rapid rhythm of long, athletic strides. In 11.72 seconds, the winner crosses the finish line. 1.08 seconds later, the race is over.

The video titled, “WATCH - Two Transgender Boys Easily Defeat Girls In State Track Meet - Take 1st & 2nd places in 100m,” has over 160,000 views on YouTube. An anonymous user with the screen name “AdamAndEveNotSteve,” posted the video less than one week after the 2018 Girls Outdoor Track Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) State Open Championship, in which trans athletes Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood won gold and silver.

Anti-LGBTQ speech fills the comments section.

“The real girls I feel sorry for. Shame.”

“A whole new meaning to Ru Paul's Drag Race.”

“Another close race! Victory! She wins by an Adams Apple.”

“This pisses me off that these ‘its’ get the right to do this. This world is insane.”

“That girl has a big set of junk on her.”

Season after season, it was only words, nothing that could stop Miller, a Bloomfield High School senior, and Yearwood, a Cromwell High School senior, from running—until three top-20 track athletes manifested their feelings of injustice into legal action this February. Miller and Yearwood found themselves at the center of the trans-athlete debate that would extend beyond the sports world and draw the attention of the Trump Administration.

Canton High School senior Chelsea Mitchell, Danbury High sophomore Alanna Smith, and Glastonbury High School senior Selina Soule filed a federal lawsuit with the potential to set a nation-wide precedent for the treatment of trans athletes in high school sports, Feb. 12. The lawsuit, which directly names Miller and Yearwood, argues that a CIAC policy allowing female trans athletes to race with other girls violates Title IX.

Many cisgender girls (those whose gender identity matches their birth gender) feel that they will inevitably lose when trans girls compete against them. No matter how much they trained, Mitchell, Smith and Soule said that they could never defeat trans opponents due to distinct physiological advantages from being born male. The lawsuit states that the plaintiffs lost opportunities to run in upper-division competitions, perform in front of college coaches, receive scholarships and publicity, and lost victory titles, because Miller and Yearwood won top spots, displacing two cisgender females.

Represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (a Southern Poverty Law Center Designated hate group), the girls and their mothers filed the lawsuit against the CIAC and the boards of education of Bloomfield, Cromwell, Glastonbury, Canton and Danbury.

Miller, Yearwood and other members of the LGBTQ community defend their right to compete in girls sports and oppose the lawsuit.

Attorney General William Barr filed a Department of Justice statement of interest, March 24, in support of the plaintiffs’ case. The DOJ said that the CIAC transgender policy ignores the physiological differences of the sexes and violates Title IX.

“In so doing, CIAC deprives those women of the single-sex athletic competitions that are one of the marquee accomplishments of Title IX,” the DOJ said in the statement.

Citing acts of congress that separated sex and gender identity into different spheres, the document asserts that the protection from sex discrimination that Title IX secures does not include discrimination towards trans individuals.

The Alliance Defending Freedom argues that the CIAC policy recognizes that biological males have an advantage over biological females in sports. In another policy, the CIAC allows girls to participate in either the boys or girls teams. Boys do not have this same opportunity.

Currently, the CIAC allows trans athletes to compete in the gender reflected in current school records and community activities. The policy states that the "Student’s gender identity is bona fide and not for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage in competitive athletics."

The lawsuit argues that female trans athletes who completed male puberty have larger lungs, hearts, bones, muscle-fiber mass, and a higher concentration of the oxygen-carrying-and-storing protein myoglobin within their muscles. All of this benefits trans athletes' performance, beyond the testosterone that hormone therapy suppresses, during the transition process, the lawsuit argues.

At Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, head track coach Rudy Matute watched the girls on his team grow a greater sense of self-discipline, commitment and teamwork. However, in recent seasons, Matute noticed several of his girls exhibit something he rarely sees in his twenty years of coaching—a sense of defeat even before stepping up to the starting line. Matute said that some girls on his team do not want to compete in events against Miller and Yearwood, and many parents voiced their unhappiness.

“I saw psychologically, a lot of my girls did not want to run the event. Even my top girls were like ‘Why would I run if I’m going to lose anyway?’” Matute said

To make the situation more equitable, Matute suggests the CIAC adopts guidelines similar to the NCAA as many athletes will advance into the college level. The NCAA's current policy states that trans females must undergo at least one year of testosterone suppression treatment before competing in female sports.

“You do feel for these students who [...] do believe they are women. And it is a genuine feeling. At the same time, as a coach, I see this, and it’s very unfair,” Matute said. “I feel that it can really be a problem if you allow this to continue to happen without any restrictions.”

The lawsuit, citing one trans college athlete named CeCe Telfer who ran in women’s track and saw some of her times improve after completing the NCAA requirements, argues that hormone therapy is not enough to provide fair competition. The lawsuit demands that the CIAC not allow anyone with an XY genotype to participate in female sports in addition to removing the names and times of trans athletes from all records.

The Alliance Defending Freedom said the CIAC trans policy violates Title IX because it does not give equal treatment or opportunities to biological females and biological males. They argue that biological males feel no threat of trans athletes taking their titles because those who are born male possess athletic advantages over those born female. In contrast, biological females do not receive recognition in their sport when trans females stand on the podium, the Alliance Defending Freedom said in the lawsuit.

Ana Castro is a varsity track athlete from Masuk High School in Monroe, Connecticut. As a junior, she holds the seventh fastest time for the 100-meter dash in the school’s history. Castro said that she does not see the playing field as equal in girls track.

“I understand that transgender athletes are now females, but they still have the same biological attributes of a male,” Castro said. “There are no hours of training that will ever make up the physical differences between a transgender female athlete and a biologically female athlete.”

In interviews and documents, plaintiffs said that when they compete against Miller or Yearwood, they feel that they lost the race before the starting gun fires. Castro said that she and her teammates experienced similar emotions.

“I have stood behind my teammates as they prepared to run against Terry Miller from Bloomfield. They had already given up," Castro said. "We didn’t feel there was a point to competing anymore as it was impossible to win."

According to race data published by the CIAC, Miller and Yearwood lost a number of races to cisgender competitors during the winter indoor and spring outdoor track seasons.

LGBTQ advocates argue that trans athletes have every right to participate in sports and to compete with their chosen gender. Hudson Taylor, the founder and executive director of the pro-LGBTQ organization, Athlete Ally, that presented Yearwood and Miller with an award, said that all athletes should be allowed to benefit from sports, regardless of their gender identity.

“This lawsuit is yet another attempt to deny the humanity of trans youth,” said Taylor in a statement published on Athlete Ally’s website. “Trans women are women, period. Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller are young women who have worked hard and trained diligently for the success they’ve seen.”

In a statement published by the American Civil Liberties Union after the lawsuit was filed, Miller said that she fights for trans rights, despite the discrimination she faces as a trans-black woman.

“I am a girl and I am a runner. I participate in athletics just like my peers to excel, find community, and meaning in my life. It is both unfair and painful that my victories have to be attacked and my hard work ignored,” said Miller. “I will keep running and keep fighting for my existence, my community, and my rights.”

The fate of the spring 2020 season of high school sports in Connecticut is unknown in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. This June, Miller, Yearwood, Mitchell and Soule will graduate from high school and move on to the next stage of their lives. Debates similar to Connecticut’s continue across the country with multiple arguments and proposed solutions. The fate of trans athletic participation in sports remains volatile and unknown.

Students Say UConn's Rec Center Dress Code Is Sexist, Administrators Say It Keeps Them Safe

Three minutes into Irene Soteriou’s workout, an employee at the University of Connecticut Recreation Center approached her with two options: cover-up or leave.

A freshman majoring in economics, 18-year-old Soteriou entered the gym in a sports bra and shorts, the average attire for the gyms near her home in Middletown, Connecticut. Soteriou did not realize that she was breaking the recreation center’s dress code banning exposed torsos. When a female employee notified her of the violation, she put on her boyfriend’s long-sleeve shirt and continued to exercise.

“It made me feel like a piece of meat,” Soteriou said, reflecting on the incident that occurred at the beginning of the semester. “[It] made me feel angry.”

Incidents similar to Soteriou’s sparked controversy on campus. The Daily Campus published an editorial accusing the policies of unfairly targeting female gym-goers. Other students called the dress code sexist. School officials continue to assure students that safety, not modesty, is the reason for the no-torso rule.

The UConn Recreation Center dress code policy reads, “Upper body clothing should fully cover the back, shoulders, and torso. Cropped T-shirts and cropped tank tops are not permitted.”

The dress code also includes provisions for appropriate forms of pants and shoes. Belts, metal zippers, jeans and khakis are not allowed. Shorts that meet guidelines are permitted. Shoes must completely cover the foot and be rubber-soled and non-marking.

According to recreation center officials, no change in policy or enforcement occurred between the old recreation center and the new.

Executive Director of UConn Recreation Cyndi Costanzo said that amid accusations that the policy is gender-biased, the no-torso rule has always applied to male and female students. Neither gender is allowed to expose their midsection, whether in a sports bra, cropped tank top, or cutoff shirt.

“The dress code is written to decrease as much as skin-to-skin, and skin-to-equipment contact as possible,” Costanzo said. “That’s the basis of the whole policy. It’s for both men and women.”

Although discussion about the no-torso rule has increased, violations of the policy are not as common as one might expect, Costanzo said.

“There is a perception that this is a major issue on campus, but we found that that is not the case,” Costanzo said. “We looked at a two-week period, and at the most, we talked to 20 people.”

Despite the small percentage of dress code violators, recreation center directors met with student leaders to address concerns over the no-torso rule, to better accommodate students. Three weeks ago, the recreation center enacted a new “Borrow the T-Shirt Policy” that provides students who violate the dress code two options: put on their own piece of clothing or borrow a T-shirt from the gym. Students who refuse both options must leave.

The T-shirts are purchased in bulk by the school for $3 a shirt. Students pay nothing; they sign out a shirt and return it at the end of their visit. After each use, staff launder the shirts to make sure it is clean for the next person.

“We want people to stay [and] we want people to come, so we really thought this was a great idea,” Costanzo said. She added that about half of the students approached about dress code violations chose the recreation center’s shirt.

Signs highlighting dress code rules with examples of inappropriate attire now hang on recreation center walls to better educate students on policies.

Costanzo said the purpose of each dress code stipulation is to ensure the safety of recreation center participants. The dress code protects students from injury and infectious diseases caused by skin-to-skin contact with equipment. Costanzo noted a rationale written by Virginia Commonwealth University, which identified 50 universities that follow similar dress codes to the University of Connecticut.

Physics major, Joe Riberdy, is 19 years old and from Canton, Connecticut. When Riberdy goes to the gym, he said the possibility of contracting a bacteria or virus lurks in the back of his mind.

“On a college campus in general, I’m pretty diligent about trying to wash my hands,” Riberdy said. “At the machines and weights a lot of the time, I’ll use it, and I’ll just try not to think about who’s touched it before me, or if I’m going to get sick from it, but it is a concern for sure.”

A study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that 56 percent of infectious diseases suffered by athletes spread via the skin. Staph infections, MRSA, ringworm, warts, herpes, impetigo, athlete's foot, the cold, flu and other viruses are all commonly found in gym environments.

The recreation center provides antiseptic cleaning stations and encourages gym-goers to wipe down equipment before and after use.

Jamie Crane is a 19-year-old biology student from East Granby, Connecticut. Crane’s roommate works at the recreation center, and she spoke with her about the dress code controversy.

“The employees are definitely told that it’s for health reasons,” Crane said. “It’s definitely not intentionally sexist.”

Physiology and neurobiology major Morgan Macey believes that student frustration over the dress code continues due to the restrictions it places on expressive freedoms. The 19-year-old Milford Connecticut resident said that some girls still view such rules as sexist due to society’s tendency to label women as “provocative” for exposing skin.

“If you look at fitness models, and anyone else at a normal gym, they are able to wear what they want,” Macey said. “We’re college students, we’re older, and I think we want to be able to have that freedom to come in and be able to wear whatever we want.”