CEA April 2021 • Volume 63, Number 5 • Published by the Connecticut Education Association • cea.org
BUILDING BACK BETTER
Reshaping post-pandemic education, ending dual teaching • 4-7 Protecting teachers’ health • 8-9 Pushing back against standardized tests • 10 Confronting racism • 11
2 CEA ADVISOR APRIL 2021
Leading: Our Perspective
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic upended our lives. Maneuvering around the many obstacles and adversities associated with a pandemic has meant struggling to find ways to reach our students and help our communities every day while also keeping ourselves and our families safe. As always, we are proud of your extraordinary efforts in all of these areas. You have every reason to were not as dedicated to this task as we were. CEA’s staff and leadership team has been there with you, in the fight for you and your rights from the start, and our advocacy has paid off. Our vaccine prioritization campaign and push for district-based vaccination clinics allowed educators and school staff easy access to receive their shots and experience the first glimmer of hope and relief— and an important first step to safety. See story on pages 8-9. As we look ahead, we see federal COVID relief funding heading to Connecticut (see page 4). Those funds must be
working to ensure that no child falls through the cracks; students praising their overworked, overextended educators for helping them succeed; and community advocates describing everyday struggles with food insecurity, transportation, and homelessness. Lending a strong voice to the cause that day were legislators who are staunch advocates for equitable school funding and a state budget that works for everyone—Sen. Julie
WE’VE COME A LONG WAY IN ONE YEAR
Jeff Leake, CEA President
take pride in the tremendous work you have done to provide the best possible educational experience for Connecticut’s students under some of the most trying circumstances. There was no playbook to follow. And yet, teachers excelled at keeping their schools and classrooms as safe as humanly possible, sometimes struggling with districts and district law firms that
Kushner, Rep. Bob Godfrey, and Rep. Ken Gucker, who support our schools and our profession and understand that resources are needed to help all students achieve. The pandemic didn’t create the inequities we’re seeing, but it has exacerbated the systemic underfunding problems and is shining a bright light
Tom Nicholas, CEA Vice President
on the disparities between the haves and have nots. Recovery
will require significant investments of time and
THERE IS NO DOUBT THATWE HAVE COME A LONG WAY IN THE PAST YEAR, AND TEACHERS’ ENDEAVORS HAVE BEEN NOTHING SHORT OF HEROIC. BUT THE HARDSHIPS CREATED BY THIS PANDEMIC AREN’T OVER, AND NEITHER IS OUR WORK.
resources. We urge all of you to make the time to stand with your colleagues, join the Recovery for All events, and speak out for a state budget that creates fairness and opportunities in our schools and communities, giving everyone the chance to succeed. See story on page 5. Not every legislator is in our corner, and with the legislative session in full swing, we need to educate our elected officials on the issues that impact how you teach, how your students
Donald E. Williams Jr. CEA Executive Director
CEA GOVERNANCE Jeff Leake • President Tom Nicholas • Vice President
used to keep our students and school staff safe. They must enable the consistent implementation of strict safety guidelines, address indoor air quality, and provide for children with special needs, English learners, and the social and emotional well-being of all students. As we think about why this is so critical, we are going to borrow some thought-provoking words from our colleague to the north, Vermont NEA President Don Tinney, who said, “We often refer to a school as a learning community, but we must now see school as a healing community, an extension of our public health system. Every school must be a sanctuary for every student. From the time students step onto their school bus each morning, they must feel welcomed, included, and protected throughout their school experience.” To ensure that our schools are, in fact, healing communities as well as learning communities requires a strong support system that includes school nurses, school counselors, social workers, paraeducators, community members, legislators, and so many others. It will truly take a village. One such village, in which CEA leadership and activists are actively involved, is a coalition of educators and their unions, faith-based leaders, community members, elected officials, and civic- minded groups—Recovery for All—whose mission encompasses equitably funding our public schools, reducing income inequality, and ensuring that Connecticut’s economic recovery is shared by all. Nowhere was this partnership more evident than outside Danbury’s Rogers Park Middle School, where educators, nurses, lawmakers, religious leaders, and others came together in the rain to call on the state to lift all boats so that everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Telling their personal stories were teachers
learn, and what needs to be done to ensure schools are adequately funded and supported in a post- pandemic world. What was born out of necessity at the height of the pandemic cannot be policy moving forward. We need to be vocal about ending the harmful practice and unrealistic workload of dual instruction—teaching simultaneously to remote and in-person students—which has proven disruptive, inequitable, and unsustainable. See story on page 7. As educators, our primary responsibility is to the whole child and making sure that the academic as well as the social emotional needs of every student are met. That’s why it’s so vitally important that you sign the #CancelTheTests petition to demand that federally mandated standardized tests are not administered this year. We know how much our students have been through and how much time has been lost. Taking away precious time needed for students to reconnect, learn, and rebuild and forcing a stressful, unreliable test on them after a year of isolation, anxiety, and trauma is inconceivable. See story on page 10. There is no doubt that we have come a long way in the past year, and teachers’ endeavors have been nothing short of heroic. But the hardships created by this pandemic aren’t over, and neither is our work. We still have much more to do, and we need every CEA member to stand with colleagues, union staff, and leaders and make our collective voice heard in the virtual halls of our legislature. Many critical education policy decisions are being debated in the state legislature, and teachers’ voices must be a key part of those conversations. We need to build back better—for our students, for our communities, and for ourselves. March 29, 2021
Stephanie Wanzer • Secretary David Jedidian • Treasurer
Tara Flaherty • NEA Director Katy Gale • NEA Director
CEA ADVISOR STAFF Nancy Andrews • Communications Director Lesia Day • Managing Editor Sandra Cassineri • Graphic Designer Laurel Killough • New Media Coordinator Eric Ahrens • Web Designer and Developer April 2021 Volume 63, Number 5 Published by Connecticut Education Association 1-800-842-4316 • 860-525-5641 cea.org CEA Advisor The CEA Advisor is mailed to all CEA members. Annual subscription price is $5.72 (included in membership dues and available only as part of membership). Institutional subscription price: $25.00. Advertising in the CEA Advisor is screened, but the publishing of any advertisement does not imply CEA endorsement of the product, service, or views expressed. CEA Advisor USPS 0129-220 (ISSN 0007-8050) is published in August (regular and special editions), October/November, December/January, February/ March, April (regular and special editions), May/June, and summer by the Connecticut Education Association, Capitol Place, Suite 500, 21 Oak Street, Hartford, CT 06106-8001, 860-525-5641. Periodicals postage paid at Hartford, Connecticut. Postmaster: Send address changes to CEA Advisor , Connecticut Education Association, Capitol Place, Suite 500, 21 Oak Street,
Hartford, CT 06106-8001. Production date: 4-1-2021
APRIL 2021 CEA ADVISOR 3
IN THIS ISSUE
LEADING The push for equity in education
CEA Seeks Teacher Applicant for State Advisory Council Two vacancies exist on the Connecticut Advisory Council for Teacher Professional Standards (CACTPS). One vacancy is for a three-year position, which will begin on October 1, 2021, and expire September 30, 2024. The second vacancy is for a one-year interim position, which will begin on October 1, 2021, and expire on September 30, 2022. These positions are open to elementary school teachers. Members interested in serving may request an application from CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas ( firstname.lastname@example.org ). The deadline to submit an application is June 30, 2021. Once all applications have been verified, finalists will be invited to participate in interviews conducted by a committee of state and local CEA leaders. CACTPS was created by the General Assembly in 1990 to advance the teaching profession by advising state officials on a variety of teacher issues. It meets approximately five times a year in Hartford. CEA reimburses local districts for substitute expenses so that appointed teachers may attend these meetings. Charlene Russell-Tucker Named Acting Commissioner of Education Governor Lamont named Charlene Russell- Tucker Connecticut’s acting commissioner of education, after Miguel Cardona was sworn in as U.S. Secretary of Education. “I am humbled
didn’t begin—and won’t end—with the pandemic. Much work remains, and CEA and its members are up to the task. BUDGETING Billions in federal funding could help Connecticut schools recover from a devastating pandemic. CEA leaders and staff are calling on lawmakers to ensure that those dollars are used to supplement state education funding—not replace it. FUNDING “Fund Our Schools” was the message teachers, parents, students, legislators, and community members broadcast loud and clear at a speak-out event organized by CEA and the Recovery for All coalition. The coalition’s work continues, and you can be a part of ensuring a budget that works for everyone. With the legislative session in high gear, CEA is closely tracking bills that could impact public education. See which measures deliver for your students and your profession and which ones your union and colleagues are working to defeat. With most teachers in the state fully vaccinated or on the way, school communities are one step closer to being the safe, healthy environments our students deserve. But now is not the time to let our guard down, and teachers’ unions are weighing in on new guidelines from the CDC. movement calling for a moratorium on high-stakes testing during the pandemic. Sign an open letter to the U.S. Department of Education urging an end to this year’s testing. Also learn about paid, high-quality STEM professional development open to teachers at all grade levels. DIVERSIFYING Efforts continue to address the lack of diversity in the teaching profession as well as acknowledge racism as a public health crisis. Read how you can be a part of this important change. VOTING The 173rd CEA Representative Assembly will be held virtually next month. Read about the issues confronting delegates and see who is running for office. CEA-RETIRED Interested in supporting student teachers? Evaluators are needed, and your experience as a certified professional is highly valued. Also see the schedule of upcoming CEA-Retired County Meetings and the annual Spring Business Meeting. CELEBRATING Read Across Connecticut, the state’s biggest literacy event, took on a different format this year with help from a cast of characters that children simply adored. Don’t worry if you missed it—encore performances are available to all members at cea.org . Connecticut 2021 Teacher of the Year Rochelle Brown receives her first dose of the COVID vaccine at Windsor High School. School-based clinics were a major push CEA made in a statewide campaign this year calling for teacher prioritization in vaccine distribution. RE-EXAMINING Join the growing #CancelTheTests
and grateful to Governor Lamont and the State Board of Education for placing their confidence in me to serve Connecticut’s students, families, and educators in this role,” Acting Commissioner Russell-Tucker said. “I will use this opportunity to continue to advance the work of the agency and
Russell-Tucker has most recently served as a deputy commissioner at the State Department of Education and previously worked as chief operating officer and division chief for the Office of Student Supports and Organizational Effectiveness at the agency. “During these unprecedented times, with continual changes in our schools, it is vitally important to maintain consistency within the State Department of Education,” said CEA President Jeff Leake. “Charlene’s appointment as acting commissioner brings continuity and a clear understanding of the issues at hand, ensuring that Connecticut remains on track to address the ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic and the social emotional needs of our students.” Leake continued, “We have worked with Charlene, first as chief operating officer and division chief and then as deputy commissioner, and we know she has the experience needed to collaborate with all stakeholders to continue the important work of educating our state’s students. She also understands the challenges facing our educators and students and the need to address equity in our schools.”
Charlene Russell-Tucker has been named acting commissioner of education.
our educational partners to ensure a seamless transition once a permanent commissioner is named.” Now that an acting commissioner has been named, Governor Lamont and the State Board of Education will work together in accordance with Connecticut General Statutes to identify a permanent education commissioner.
SAVE THE DATE Member Benefits Virtual Fair | Thursday, May 20, 5-6:30 p.m. Your CEA membership card can save you money on everything from auto insurance to yoga classes. Join your colleagues for a virtual fair where you’ll learn about CEA member discounts on products and services you use every day. Every attendee receives a surprise gift and a chance at one of several raffle prizes awarded that night. Register at cea.org/event/mbfair_may2021 .
You Have Complimentary Life Insurance But have you named your beneficiary?
Did you know that every CEA member automatically receives a free life insurance benefit from the National Education Association (NEA)? Did you also know that half of all CEA members have not named a beneficiary for their NEA Complimentary Life Insurance? Teachers are planners, so why not make sure your loved ones are protected? Visit neamb.com/account/complife and designate or update your beneficiaries. It’s quick, simple, and free. You may also wish to explore additional coverage for added peace of mind.
“After the birth of my first daughter, I realized the benefit of having additional life insurance. However, I was rejected by three insurance companies. I was overweight, and their underwriters basically wrote in their rejection letters that my size made me uninsurable. NEA Term-Life Insurance was the only plan that offered me any coverage. I am grateful to have the extra protection for my family in case the worst was to ever happen.” Kristen K.
ON THE COVER
CONNECT WITH CEA
4 CEA ADVISOR APRIL 2021
CONNECTICUT SCHOOLS TO RECEIVE $1.1 BILLION IN FEDERAL COVID RELIEF Funding will help learning recovery, mental health, technology, building safety
The American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress and signed by President Biden, provides $1.9 trillion in COVID relief that will help fund public schools and lift countless children and families out of poverty. For Connecticut, this means K-12 schools will receive more than $1.1 billion, largely allocated to districts in proportion to the amount of Title I funding they receive. It is important, however, that this money is used for the purposes it was intended—to supplement state education funding, not take the place of it. To ensure that this happens, CEA leaders, staff, and members have been active in legislative hearings (see article at right) and in rallies and other events (see facing page) to call for full funding of schools and a fair budget for all. “The hardships created by this pandemic aren’t over,” said CEA President Jeff Leake. “Teachers are very thankful that President Biden and Congress have listened to educators and aim to address not only the learning loss children have experienced during this pandemic but also the trauma so many have faced and continue to face.” About 25 percent of the funding for states and districts must be set aside for summer school, summer enrichment, and extended-day programs to help with learning recovery. Remaining funds are to focus primarily on the needs of low- income students, children with disabilities, English learners, and children who are members of racial and ethnic minorities. Funding can be used for measures including mental health services and supports, educational technology, and facility repairs and improvements to reduce the risk of virus transmission, such as HVAC system upgrades. “The impacts of the American Rescue Plan will be felt immediately,” said Congresswoman Jahana Hayes. Provisions from her Save Education Jobs Act included in the plan will protect funding for low- income school districts and ensure education funding is spent responsibly. “There’s pretty substantial flexibility to states for how to use this money,” said Senator Chris Murphy. “A small percent must be used for summer programming, for camps— not just school. A small percent must be spent on students with IEPs, but
broadly, schools will be able to fit these dollars to their needs.” “The funding Connecticut schools receive must be used to support our must vulnerable students and keep our schools safe,” said Leake. “These additional dollars provide an opportunity to address inequities that have systemically impacted students and communities of color. They provide an opportunity to hire more educators, including counselors to support students’ mental health needs, as well as improve air quality in our schools and take other measures to keep students and teachers healthy and safe.” The bill requires schools to be transparent about reopening plans and dedicates $800 million to wraparound services for students experiencing homelessness. “The good news is that the education dollars can be spent over a number of school years,” said Murphy. “And so, there are some cases in which the education dollars can be spent into the 2024 school year and beyond. We recognize that you can’t make up for learning loss in a year or deal with the emotional trauma of not being able to be with your peers or being at home in an unsafe environment in a year.” Murphy spearheaded the effort to ensure that funding for summer programs could be allocated to recreation and enrichment, not merely academic remediation. Other measures in the federal bill include $7 billion for Internet connectivity and devices, $39 billion for early childhood programs, and a child tax credit aimed at reducing childhood poverty. “I think we are going to see the immediate benefits of lifting half the kids who are currently living in poverty out of poverty,” Murphy said, anticipating benefits in health and educational achievement as well. “We applaud the leadership of President Biden and Vice President Harris, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer, and the representatives and senators for getting the job done,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “We have an unprecedented opportunity to create the public schools all students—Black and white, Native and newcomer, Hispanic and Asian alike—need and deserve. Our work is not over.”
Hamden’s Westwoods Elementary School third-grader Pablo Martinez-HoSang attends a speak-out calling for equity for all. (Story, next page.)
CEA to Legislators: Federal Dollars Should Supplement— Not Supplant—State Education Funding With education needs greater than ever, now is not the time to freeze the state’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) commitment, CEA President Jeff Leake told the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, testifying about Governor Lamont’s proposed budget. “Freezing ECS would derail the progress made to maintain a predictable and dependable state funding formula,” Leake explained, “and create a large shortfall in the state’s commitment to education in the next biennium, when the one-time federal dollars used to supplant state funding are no more. CEA believes the state should keep the promise it made when it enacted the new ECS formula in 2017, with the necessary increases in education funding each year.” Replacing the state’s commitment to ECS with one-time federal funds is a mistake, he said, because those funds are intended to help with the consequences of the pandemic. “Supplemental federal funds can help Connecticut address the needs of English learners, students living in poverty, students who have experienced trauma, those harmed by asthma and poor air quality, and students with special needs who are facing unique challenges in these times.” Federal resources could go a long way toward addressing students’ social and emotional well-being by ensuring that schools have adequate numbers of trained, certified school social workers, counselors, and psychologists and that students have more opportunities to engage in enrichment activities. Torrington teacher Carrie Cassady told legislators that Governor Lamont’s budget proposal does not meet the needs of her students. “We need more social workers and counselors to help students process the last year of their lives,” Cassady said. “We need more teachers so that we can have smaller class sizes.” Indeed, Cassady and other CEA members and leaders brought their concerns before the legislature’s Finance Committee, asking lawmakers to look at tax restructuring that would help students, families, and communities experiencing the greatest need. While her colleagues and students benefit from a well-funded school district, Darien Education Association President and fifth-grade teacher Joslyn DeLancey testified that circumstances in many Connecticut schools are starkly different. “We need to have a state where everybody gets a fair and equitable education that is strongly supported. If we ignore these costs now, that just brings problems later on.” “This past year has laid bare the extreme disparities in Connecticut’s communities,” Manchester Education Association President Kate Dias told Finance Committee members. “COVID has shown us the consequences of years of systemic racism and inequities, and it is time for bold action. Connecticut is a very wealthy state, rich with resources and opportunities, and we must look at how those resources are distributed and who is benefitting.” “We know that Connecticut has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the country,” said CEA President Jeff Leake. “We need a revenue system that provides the resources necessary for all of our students to succeed and become productive citizens in a state with a well-educated workforce.” CREC teacher and local president Lisa Cordova told the Finance Committee that teaching kindergarten remotely has given her a window into students’ homes and the challenges their families face. “This year has highlighted the glaring inequities between students,” she shared. “Some have adequate space, materials, and support, which has led to a successful year of learning.” On the other hand, she explained, many children have struggled without the parental support necessary to make virtual kindergarten a success, with parents having to work two or three jobs just to put food on the table and pay bills. “Living in Connecticut, which is the wealthiest state, and living in the U.S., which is the wealthiest country in the world, it is unconscionable to me that we do not take care of our own citizens,” said CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas. CEA-Retired member Bob Brown, chair and founder of the CEA Poverty Task Force, told legislators, “If we spend the money now to reduce poverty and its many impacts, we will gain back literally millions of dollars in tax revenue and productivity in the long run. And morally, we will not have to ignore the embarrassing truth that our fellow human beings are struggling daily just to survive in this, the richest country on earth. Lifting people out of poverty does not take away from anyone; it adds to the quality of life for everyone.”
“Educators are pivotal figures in our lives, and none of us would be here without our teachers,” says Danbury High School senior Rebecca D’Ostilio (right), shown here with math coach Mary Jo Bohrman at an event calling for fair school funding. (See story, next page.)
APRIL 2021 CEA ADVISOR 5
TEACHERS, COMMUNITY MEMBERS TAKE THEIR MESSAGE TO THE PUBLIC SQUARE | A Fair Recovery for All Teachers, students, parents,
many of whom have 30 students per classroom, as well as school counselors whose caseloads exceed 350 students. Danbury is 169th out of Connecticut’s 169 school districts— dead last—in per- pupil spending. Sweeney named one counselor in particular who proved crucial to his ability to succeed even in the most trying times. Curtis Darragh had 350 students in his caseload at the time
community members, and labor groups are sending a clear message to Connecticut’s leaders: Let’s make Connecticut a place where all residents can thrive. At a March 24 speak-out held outside Rogers Park Middle School in Danbury, they advocated for a fair budget that invests in schools, families, and communities and gives everyone the opportunity to succeed. The event was organized by Recovery for All, a grassroots coalition that includes CEA, and future events are planned as a way of demanding a revenue system that provides the resources for all of Connecticut’s residents to succeed. “We need to invest more in our schools, our healthcare system, and affordable housing, but our middle class and working families are stretched so thin, they cannot afford to pay more,” said Senator Julie Kushner, who addressed the crowd along with Representatives Bob Godfrey and Ken Gucker and Danbury mayoral candidate Roberto Alvez. “That’s why it’s critical that my colleagues and I work together to ensure an economic recovery for all Connecticut residents—one that lifts up our middle class and reduces the growing inequities and widening gap between the super wealthy and those in our state who are struggling to make ends meet.” The impact of imbalance In addition to legislators, speakers at the Recovery for All event included teachers, parents, community members, council members, and students sharing personal stories about underfunded public schools and the impacts of poverty. Danbury High School student William Sweeney elicited cheers and tears as he described the heroic work of teachers in his school district,
“Pausing ECS funding makes me feel like any calls for racial equity across the state are empty,” said Julian Shafer, an early career educator in Danbury.
Above: NEA Danbury President Erin Daly and CEA Executive Director Donald Williams addressed the crowd at a speak-out calling for a fair budget for all Connecticut residents. They were joined by other CEA members, staff,
and leaders, including CEA President Jeff Leake and Secretary Stephanie Wanzer (below, right).
Sweeney was his student; today, he has 375. Darragh was out on the rainy lawn during the speak-out, wiping tears from his eyes not only because he is so well-remembered and regarded by students he has helped but also because he is concerned for the mental health of hundreds of others whose counselors are spread thin. “I have testified before the legislature about reducing the ratio of students to school counselors to a more manageable 250:1,” he said. “Our students need us more than ever.” (See page 6.) Also speaking in her capacity as a school counselor was former special education teacher Juanita Harris, who said, “We must support a budget that will provide funding for the school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists necessary to address the social emotional needs of more than 3,000 diverse learners at Danbury High School alone, as well as a budget to address this pandemic’s trauma-related issues our students have been struggling with and are coming into our buildings with.” Harris added that many districts like hers are also dealing with inadequate and outdated technology, high numbers of English learners, growing class sizes and special education caseloads, and intensifying mental health concerns among
students—all of which require
funding and resources to address.
“It’s time to fully implement the new ECS formula and have a progressive
state tax system that will generate equitable funding for educational improvements like healthy buildings, technology upgrades, mental health services, diverse professional staffing, EL and special education services, and a myriad of needs,” she said. Danbury High School social studies teacher Julian Shafer, now in his sixth year as an educator, attended the event to show his concern for underfunded schools and his support for his students. “Pausing ECS funding,” he explained, “makes me feel like any calls for racial equity across the state are empty. With class sizes of 30 students, as hard as we try, we are in a situation that makes it difficult to give students the education they deserve.” Haves, have-nots Mary Jo Bohrman, an instructional math coach at Danbury’s Pembroke Elementary School who addressed colleagues and community members at the speak-out, noted, “If the pandemic teaches us anything, it’s that we can’t operate as we did before. We can never again be caught off guard where our lack of funding over time deteriorates our infrastructure to such a degree that it prevents us from meeting our students’ most basic needs.” “For more than a decade, the city of Danbury and the state of Connecticut have left our students with the paltry remains at the bottom of the school funding barrel,” said Erin Daly, a third-grade teacher and president of NEA Danbury. “Our children have a right to an equitable education. The injustice in school funding puts our students at a disadvantage compared to students in every other district in Connecticut.”
Luanelly Iglesias, a bilingual educator in Danbury and a single mother, has experienced the hardships caused by the state’s inequitable tax structure both in her personal life and in her classroom. “I have seen many unmotivated and depressed students after their parents lost their jobs, couldn’t afford to pay their bills, and had to move in with friends or relatives. Our schools require critical funding to meet the growing needs of our students, including more support for English learners and students who receive special services, counselors, health services, and other important programs that provide our students with the best opportunities to succeed,” said Iglesias. “We are a Title I district, and we have teachers who do so much with so little,” said Danbury math teacher Lammia Agoora. Describing what she called a perfect storm brewing, she cautioned against the governor’s budget, which eliminates millions in funding that districts like Danbury need—continuing a long pattern of state underfunding at the same time schools have been drastically overcrowded. Properly funding schools, she said, would benefit students by providing smaller class sizes, tutors, technology for the 21st century, before- and after-school programs to close achievement gaps and offer academic, social, and emotional support, and additional resources to bridge the language gap for English learners. “In a state with great financial resources,” said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams, “we have the ability to meet the challenge of this moment and pave the way for a better and stronger Connecticut. In fact, it’s our obligation to do so.”
Watch the rally on CEA’s Facebook page.
High student-to-counselor ratios—a consequence of years of school underfunding—are a persistent problem. Speaking to the issue were Danbury student William Sweeney, shown with middle school counselor Curtis Darragh (top photo), and high school counselor Juanita Harris.
6 CEA ADVISOR APRIL 2021
CEA Advocates for Pro-Education Measures
them and their students are being debated by those elected to represent them,” says CEA President Jeff Leake. “Teachers from every corner of the state, together with CEA leaders and staff, have been actively engaging with legislators on these and
With the legislative session in high gear, CEA is hard at work tracking and testifying on bills that affect how you teach, how your students learn, and the types of protections teachers, students, and school communities need and deserve.
other issues, joining virtual public hearings, testifying live over Zoom, submitting written comments, and making calls to their elected officials. Hearing from teachers directly has an impact on lawmakers. They listen. They value our members’ experiences and feedback. But it’s important for all teachers to make their voices heard, because that collective voice sends a powerful message.” Be a part of the process that shapes the future of public education in your community. Check your inbox for CEA Action Alerts and CEAgo emails with up-to- the-minute news on what’s happening at the state legislature and how you can make your voice heard.
CEA, TEACHERS CALL FOR SOCIAL EMOTIONAL SUPPORTS FOR STUDENTS Long before the pandemic, it was evident to teachers that students per 500-700 students. Key bills that have been heard so far include proposals to fund social emotional supports for students (especially relevant during the pandemic), identify racism as a public health crisis, recruit more teachers of color to the profession, uphold unions’ ability to empower and communicate with teachers, provide fair access to workers’ compensation for teachers who contracted coronavirus, and enact a state budget that provides public schools with the funding they need to build back better. These are just a handful of proposals making their way through the legislature; CEA is tracking dozens of measures—good and bad—that could impact your classroom and your profession. “It’s important for members not to be bystanders when decisions that affect
BILL UPHOLDS UNIONS’ ABILITY TO EMPOWER, COMMUNICATE WITH EMPLOYEES
“School counseling is more important this year than any year,” Naugatuck school counselor Mary Schone explained in written testimony. “We have been learning in person since the beginning of the school year. I have watched the trauma from COVID, in addition to the trauma that my students already experience with chronic poverty, racial disparities, loss, violence, and separation. My families are struggling, and most of all, my students are struggling.” “I’m already planning for the 2021-2022 school year to be filled with students ‘catching up,’ finding routines, getting organized, and connecting emotionally and socially with others,” Danbury school counselor Curtis Darragh told legislators. Not having enough personnel to provide support for students, he said, is deeply problematic. “I can’t tell you how many times I have been meeting with a student and have a line of other students waiting, or that one student who comes to me and has to be told to ‘wait’ because of all my other responsibilities as a school counselor. Danbury Public Schools’ ratio of one school counselor for every 375 students is not ideal,” he said, adding that the same problem plays out in cities across the state. Concerned about mounting mental health challenges and the risks of suicidal ideation, he acknowledged, “Missing that one student is one of my biggest fears.” “I worry about every one of those students I can’t get to or don’t have the ability to see as often as needed until they can be
In a powerful speech championing unions, President Joe Biden in early March said, “Unions put power in the hands of workers. They level the playing field. They give you a stronger voice for your health, your safety, higher wages, protections from racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Unions lift up workers, both union and nonunion, but especially Black and brown workers.” Though Connecticut has a proud, decades-long history of union strength, the forces that have worked to undermine unions in other parts of the country are very much at work here too. State legislators have been debating a new law that would provide much-needed support for unions. In testimony before the Labor and Public Employees Committee, attorney Daniel Livingston—speaking on behalf of CEA and other unions—urged legislators to support Senate Bill 908: An Act Concerning the Right of a Public Employee to Join or Support a Union. By protecting unions, Livingston said, the bill strengthens democracy in the workplace and gives employees “a genuine voice about the wages, benefits, and working conditions that play such a critical role in their lives and in their families’ lives.” SB 908 protects unions’ ability to communicate with employees about how their contract works, how the grievance procedure works, and how they are free to speak their minds and receive representation. “All of those things are important,” said Livingston, “and you need strong unions to ensure them.” “Over the past year, teachers and others have been targeted by misinformation from national groups aimed at undermining unions,” said CEA President Jeff Leake in written testimony on SB 908. “They have received messages from their employers that violate labor law by seeking to unfairly meddle in union business. Some have been strong-armed to reject their union in contradiction to their own interests. In short, their rights have been violated. The bill we support today helps to ensure that educators are treated fairly and provided accurate and helpful information about their employment, their career, and their profession.” The bill ensures that unions are aware when new hires occur, have the contact information needed to reach out to them, and have access to new hire orientations so that new employees have an opportunity to learn about the union, their contract, and their rights and responsibilities. Similar laws have been passed in numerous other states. Senator Julie Kushner, who co-chairs the committee with Representative Robyn Porter, said, “We like to be a leader in supporting workers and workers’ families.” “We understand the critical importance of unions having a strong voice,” Porter agreed.
were facing a mental health crisis— one that called for additional social emotional supports. COVID-19 has only intensified those unmet needs. With that in mind, CEA leaders, staff, and members spoke out in support of several provisions of a bill—House Bill 6557: An Act Concerning Social Emotional Learning—that would provide $10 million to increase mental health support and resources in Connecticut’s schools. “Schools face great challenges in the coming years, as the pandemic’s impact on children’s academic and social emotional well-being becomes clear,” CEA Teacher Development Specialist Kate Field told legislators at an Education Committee public hearing in March. “The pandemic has given us an opportunity to reimagine what school can be, and CEA commends the sponsors of this bill for taking steps toward creating the space needed to try something new.” “There is a disconnect between what students need, recognition of those needs, and our ability and willingness to pay for those needs,” CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas explained. “Many schools do not have ready access to student support personnel such as social workers, counselors, or school psychologists.” He noted that Connecticut must do more to ensure that the ratios of social workers, school psychologists, and school counselors meet national standards, which call for one social worker and school counselor per 250 students and one school psychologist
referred to an outside provider,” said Sharon
Veatch, a school counselor in Region 1. “Thirty-six percent of my students receive free or reduced lunch and thus are on the state’s insurance, but only a few places in our area provide therapeutic services to low-income students. Many of these are full and not accepting new clients.” In addition, she said, many families lack transportation, and some of the closest state agencies are more than a 45-minute drive away from the nearest town in Veatch’s six-town district. “This makes what I do more important.”
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APRIL 2021 CEA ADVISOR 7
DUAL TEACHING MUST END, EDUCATORS TELL LEGISLATORS Connecticut teachers have described 2020-2021 as the most difficult school year of their careers not only because of the stress of the left out. Creating lessons for both fall, her family decided to keep her home. I had “WE MUST NOT LET OUR CHILDREN DOWN BY
nurse at Natchaug Hospital, admitted a patient who tested positive for COVID two days later. Mesloh contracted COVID and ended up in the hospital with pneumonia; his organs began to shut down. “I’ve been dealing with this every single day since,” he said. “Breathing is a struggle. Without supplemental oxygen, I wouldn’t be here.” Mesloh described how unfair it is that he hasn’t been able to receive workers’ compensation benefits after contracting COVID at work. “I need to be able to pay my bills, and I don’t know where else to go.” The proposed bill would be retroactive, qualifying workers infected by COVID-19 at any point during the public health emergency. It would also prevent employers from disciplining workers who file for workers’ compensation, dissuading workers from filing, or misinforming them about how to file. The raised burial benefit would be retroactive for essential workers during the public health emergency. CEA is also advocating for legislative measures to improve indoor air quality in schools. See last month’s CEA Advisor for details and check cea.org for updates. Denise Barrett has also been teaching under a hybrid model this year. “I have to say that within my 10-plus years of teaching, this past year has been the toughest in my entire career,” Barrett wrote. “It doesn’t matter how much I modify an activity or how creative I try to be with a lesson; the students are just simply not engaged. They do not talk to one another anymore. They would rather type their responses and communicate that way.” Fellow Ridgefield teacher Megan Osimanti has experienced remote learning as both a teacher and a parent. “When schools are deemed safe enough for students to be there at full capacity, distance learning should not be an open option for students to still access,” she told legislators. “My own children try to access other entertaining devices, like their phones, Nintendo Switches, etc., out of view of their teachers on screen. They often hold onto questions or concerns about what they are learning, avoiding what they determine to be the awkward unmuting option. Their teachers sometimes aren’t able to respond to a chat message or email in real time, and then they are left to move on without clarity.” Osimanti concluded, “We must not let our children down by perpetuating a system of learning that has shown us more flaws than benefits.” SPREAD THE WORD CEA has launched a campaign to end dual teaching, which some legislators want to continue into the next school year. Watch your mail for postage-paid cards to send to your lawmakers. Sign your name and tell your story.
remote and in- person learners also means teachers have had to double the amount of time they spend planning. “On a daily basis I have approximately eight students in front of me and about 12 or so at home,” wrote Elsa Batista, a Newington world language teacher. “At times, I catch myself just talking and looking at the students logging in from home (so I am looking and talking to a computer). As soon as I realize this is happening, I find myself just looking at the students in my class and not those on my computer screen. It is a constant back and forth, and somewhere in between that game of ping-pong, I find that I lose some of my students’ attention.” CREC teacher Cathy Lee finds inequities and their effect on student learning have worsened under virtual
PERPETUATING A SYSTEM OF LEARNING THAT HAS SHOWN US MORE FLAWS THAN BENEFITS.” Megan Osimanti, Ridgefield teacher
made a connection as she sat in front of me, but the connection has since disappeared,” Lee reported.
pandemic and its toll on students, but also because of the impossibility of teaching students simultaneously online and in-person. Testifying on Senate Bill 977: An Act Concerning Virtual Learning, teachers described their experiences with a system of dual instruction that fails both teachers and students. “Over the past year, I have had to teach a dual classroom,” Joel Barlow High School teacher Angela Staron explained to legislators in written testimony. “I have had students in front of me and students on the computer at home. It is truly a nightmare to do this at the same time. Students suffer, and teachers suffer. There is absolutely no conceivable way that this is manageable as a method of course once we have the vaccine underway.” Other teachers shared that pivoting from remote to in-person learners and back creates an impossible scenario where one group of students is always
would help injured workers as well their families. “Too often, injured workers are left holding the bag with current laws the way they exist,” he said. The bill would also increase the funeral allowance, which has remained the same for 34 years and, at $4,000, is far below that provided in neighboring states. At a news conference preceding the Labor Committee hearing, several essential workers spoke out about their experiences contracting COVID on the job and failing to receive workers’ compensation benefits. Some workers who contracted COVID nearly a year ago are still waiting for the benefit. Sean Howard, a correctional officer, described a heart condition he will likely have to manage for the rest of his life as a result of contracting COVID on the job last July. “I can’t play with my young son like I used to,” he said. “My colleagues in corrections used their own sick, personal, and vacation time while recovering from COVID, even though they clearly got COVID on the job,” he continued. “We can and must do “I know nothing of one of my students aside from that he logs in late and will respond in the chat when I call his name for attendance. I have not been able to form a connection with him, and his algebra skills are suffering because of this. As many teachers around my school, district, state, country, and world will attest, this is inhibiting the education of special education students the most. I cannot color-code notes or write concrete steps next to problems for students to follow, and I often cannot connect with students to create a relationship so that I can better understand how to help them.” Plainville teacher Amanda Lynch described how dual teaching is harming both students and educators. “Doing two jobs at the same time is impacting the emotional health of teachers and the quality of their teaching. Teaching both in person and livestreaming is ineffective, as a teacher cannot give 100 percent to each group. Teachers are feeling like failures, and student academics are being put at risk.” Lynch wrote that every day she has a single lesson interrupted five or six times for a technology issue. Multiplied by a minimum of five lessons daily, the technology-related interruptions are constant. Ridgefield High School teacher
learning. Despite her best efforts, she has been unable to make connections with several of her students who are learning remotely, and their learning has consequently suffered. “One child began the school year in person, but after she was sent home to quarantine in the
Bloomfield teacher Mary Kay Rendock and her students know firsthand the pitfalls and immense challenges of a dual teaching setting.
FOR TEACHERS BATTLING COVID, CEA FIGHTS FOR WORKERS’ COMP Essential workers have been busy on the frontlines keeping Connecticut running throughout the pandemic, yet when they’ve led to slaughter.” “In the past year, I have spoken to more than 150 members of our medical conditions from being shared, making it much more difficult to prove. Shafner said the proposed bill better by all frontline workers.” Last March, Scott Mesloh, a
organization who have suffered and continue to suffer from the effects of the coronavirus and resulting illness,” CEA Legal Counsel Melanie Kolek told legislators. “Nearly every one of them got sick from a known positive contact at their school, with no exposure at home or in the community. And almost every case involved the teacher spreading the virus to family members. Only a handful of claims were accepted and deemed compensable by the workers’ compensation insurer; the rest were denied, or their doctor was reluctant to establish the requisite causation based solely on the history provided to them by their sick patient.” The effects of COVID can be long-lasting, necessitating long-term care and costs not covered under health insurance, as well as the loss of considerable time from work. All of these would be covered by workers’ compensation if a claim were accepted, Kolek explained. Attorney Nathan Shafner pointed out that, unlike a worker struck by a brick at a construction site, employees who contract COVID on the job can have a hard time proving where they contracted the virus. Privacy laws can keep other workers’
contracted COVID-19 on the job, they’ve frequently failed to receive the workers’ compensation benefits they deserve. That’s why essential workers and a coalition of labor unions who represent them, including CEA, testified in support of a bill that would make the workers’ compensation process fairer to employees. The bill would help essential workers by creating a presumption that they got sick on the job. Their employers could still contest their workers’ compensation, but the burden of proof would fall on management. State Senator Julie Kushner, co- chair of the legislature’s Labor Committee, said that the signs many people displayed early in the pandemic thanking essential workers were important and heartwarming. “But when it comes down to it,” she continued, “we have to make sure that appreciation and thank yous are not just words. It has to translate into economic support for these families.” The committee’s co-chair, Rep. Robyn Porter, added, “We don’t get to call them essential workers and treat them like sacrificial lambs being