CEA April 2023 • Volume 65, Number 5 • Published by the Connecticut Education Association • cea.org GROWING OUR PROFESSION • HIGHER SALARIES • PAID STUDENT TEACHING • END EDTPA



Leading: Our Perspective

Tell your story At county forums, one-on-one meetings, public hearings, and larger scale events such as CEA’s breakfast with legislators, lawmakers have been hearing your stories. They need to hear more. Every educator has a story that illustrates something

They say that time heals all wounds, but as we round the corner of another year since the start of the pandemic, it’s unclear whether time has really healed any of us. As we travel the state and beyond, hearing and echoing the concerns and hopes for our profession, it strikes us that many of our wounds are still fresh. When teachers speak about stress and burnout, it’s raw. (See page 4.) They describe the intense needs of their students combined with a chronic lack of supports. They talk about

important and compelling— something only an educator can know from firsthand experience. Talk to your legislators; share your story. Being told that teachers need higher salaries does not have the same impact as hearing about the second job you took on to cover student loans, housing, and essentials. Statistics on the need for more teachers, school counselors,

Tell Our Stories, Building Our Case

Kate Dias, CEA President

escalating behaviors and the fact that disrupted learning is often the least of our students’ problems, or our own. As many of us have witnessed, you cannot Bloom unless you Maslow. To add to our challenges, attacks on teachers in the political arena and across social media take an already difficult job and make it nearly impossible. More and more educators are asking themselves, Why? Why do I do this work? Why do I keep trying when I am not supported? Why do I sacrifice my own family for other people’s families? Why, despite my education and experience, am I not respected or trusted? (See page 11.) The stress and burnout are building. The frustration is real. But so is the hope. It’s real—and it, too, is building. Hope fuels us As we talk to our educators— standouts, among the best in the nation—we realize that hope is what fuels them. Hope for our students, hope for our profession, and the belief that education is the great equalizer and the path to opportunity. They know we are one great moment away from inspiration, and they cling to that like a life raft. Just look at our Because of a Teacher campaign for proof. The work we do matters, and our students know it and show it. (See page 12.) This legislative session provides some of the greatest reasons for hope in a very long time. Right now, we have a tremendous opportunity to remake our profession, our future, and our students’ learning experiences into everything they should be. Legislators and state officials are looking at dozens of issues we have come to them about, and they are hearing our voices. (See pages 6-9.) Now is not the time to be silent. We have a historic unpaid student teaching—hurdles that threaten to turn our best and brightest away when we need them the most. We have a chance to see to it that our youngest learners arrive at the classroom door ready to learn, with a play-based pedagogy guiding their learning. We have a chance to ease the burden of standardized testing on all of us, to give our students learning experiences that are enduring and meaningful, and to ensure that our own evaluations and development are meaningful and aimed at our professional growth. We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see our needs and goals codified into an Educator Bill of Rights, and an opportunity to diversify our profession, retain our talented workforce, and rekindle the joy of teaching. Don’t let these opportunities slip through our hands. All of these goals and more are before our legislators right now. They are within our reach, but only if we keep some important conversations going. opportunity to bring teachers’ salaries in line with those of other professions and knock down the hurdles on the path to becoming an educator—from edTPA to student loans and

and other resources is not the same as hearing that students haven’t had a math teacher since September or are throwing furniture for lack of mental health supports. Your stories have the power to change hearts and minds. They are the fuel that moves our initiatives across the finish line. Find your legislators and tell them why protecting education and promoting educator issues matters. Making you a legislative advocate is as simple as talking about your experiences. We already had teachers submit more than 600 pieces of testimony on key bills under consideration right now, and that level of advocacy has not gone unnoticed by legislators. Watch for our CEA Action Alerts for timely updates and opportunities for direct action. Let’s keep that momentum going. If writing isn’t your thing (or even if it is), we have other ways you can make your voice heard. Join us for #RedForEd Lobby Day on April 26 and share your story with legislators in person. Your story is what you bring to the table, and no one else can tell it like you do. Sign up and come to Hartford to make the case for our causes. (See page 3.) Stronger together When you come, you will be surrounded by others like you—colleagues doing the same hard work and meeting the same challenges. You will feel the collective strength that brings. Indeed, the encouragement we need frequently comes from within our own circle. An excellent reminder of the power of our profession was the in between. Gatherings like these remind us of the spark that brought us here. It is through our communities that we find the connections that uplift and guide us through the good and bad. How many times have we heard teachers say that their colleagues are the ones who keep them going? This conference inspired that same feeling for teachers in every corner of the state, at every stage of their careers. Topics ran the spectrum from trauma informed classrooms to the merits of TikTok stardom, and members laughed, deliberated, learned from each other, and—importantly—leaned on each other. Our wounds can be a little raw, but let’s use that to fuel our fight for what is right—an education system that supports students by supporting their teachers. Victories for education this legislative session may be just the salve we need. April 4, 2023 wonderful mix of members at CEA’s Early Career Educator Conference this spring. (See page 10.) We enjoyed the company of CEA Aspiring Educators with their youthful enthusiasm, veterans with decades of experience to guide our work, and everyone

Joslyn DeLancey, CEA Vice President

Donald E. Williams Jr. CEA Executive Director

CEA ADVISOR STAFF Nancy Andrews • Communications Director Lesia Day • Managing Editor Laurel Killough • New Media Coordinator Stephanie Boccuzzi • Graphic Designer Eric Ahrens • Web Designer and Developer Marcus Patterson • Administrative Assistant CEA GOVERNANCE Kate Dias • President Joslyn DeLancey • Vice President Tara Flaherty • Secretary Stephanie Wanzer • Treasurer Tanya Kores • NEA Director Katy Gale • NEA Director

“The stress and burnout are building. The frustration is real. But so is the hope.”

CEA Advisor

April 2023 Volume 65, Number 5 Published by Connecticut Education Association 1-800-842-4316 • 860-525-5641 cea.org

The CEA Advisor is mailed to all CEA members. 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, October/November, December/ January, February/March, April, 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: 4-5-2023



News Briefs

Let’s Get It Done!

ON THE COVER CEA Aspiring Educators are the future of public education. Read their recommendations for growing the profession (pages 10-11.) Shown here at CEA’s Early Career Educator Conference (left to right, starting at the top) are Owen Eccles, Max Grossman, David Kavanaugh, Aidan Karpicz, Antonios Giambanis, Frankie Aguanno, Annie Prorokovic, Jenna Rice, Tessa St. Germain, McKenna Lerch, Katherine Brush, Mackenzie Brink, Nadia Wentzell, Olivia DeLoach, Brandon Scacca, Nicole Pepe, Lauren Cook, Kate Cummings, Abigail Rasmussen, and Marlee Greenlaw. PUBLICIZING Educators take to the airwaves to bring public awareness to the reasons behind the teacher shortage. ORGANIZING With a proposed budget threatening to cut school faculty and staff, East Lyme educators and allies came out in force to change hearts and minds. SUPPORTING At a series of Fix-It Forums, teachers gave much-needed feedback about the state’s problematic special education data software. DISCUSSING Four years ago, DCF leaders met with CEA members for a candid conversation about how the agency’s processes could be improved. In the sequel to that discussion, see what’s changed and what changes are still needed. This year’s legislative session offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pass comprehensive laws that will enhance the teaching profession. Learn how your voice can turn teachers’ recommendations into reality in the next few weeks. More students would pursue teaching, and more educators would remain in the profession, if it weren’t for any number of roadblocks that make it hard to succeed. CEA’s Early Career Educator Conference brings new, aspiring, and veteran educators together to listen, learn, and lead the way to a brighter future. RECOGNIZING A Connecticut Teacher of the Year is inducted into the 2023 National Teachers Hall of Fame, and local TV celebs give their own teachers a public shoutout for putting them on the path to success. REPRESENTING Hear from candidates running for positions on CEA’s Board of Directors, and see some of the newest faces to join CEA’s staff. CEA-RETIRED Whether serving on the State Teachers’ Retirement Board or participating in a national conference of retired educators, read how CEA-Retired members remain active in ways that improve the profession for all. READING Students in one town were treated to day after day of special events and surprise guests during Read Across America Week. Catch all the action!

#RedForEd Lobby Day Wednesday, April 26

Legislative Office Building, Hartford Salary increases, pandemic pension

enhancement, ending edTPA, bringing back play in the early grades, increasing the kindergarten start age—if we want any of these teacher priorities and others passed, we must all speak out. Share your stories with your senators and representatives. Connecticut lawmakers have until June 7 to pass or reject laws with lasting impacts on your livelihood and your students—and they need a push from you. To get good laws past the finish line,

it’s important that your senators and representatives hear your stories. Join other CEA members and legislators for a day of conversation and action at the Legislative Office Building. Wear your #RedforEd and be part of the next wave that gets good laws on the books. While this event will be taking place all day, you may participate at whatever time works best for you.


The morning session will kick off at 10 a.m. and focus on CEA-Retired members and issues—though active members are welcome to take part. Lunch will be provided. The afternoon session will focus on issues affecting active teachers. Come to Hartford whenever you’re done with school—we will provide orientation and information on CEA legislative priorities in waves at 3, 4, and 5 p.m. Dinner will be provided. Learn more and register at cea.org/event/lobby-day .





CEA Remembers Gloria Brown

CEA mourns the loss of longtime member Gloria Brown, who passed away on March 18, 2023. A Wolcott teacher for 37 years, Brown dedicated her life to teaching, with the broader goal of improving education for everyone. In addition to serving on CEA’s Board of Directors, she was a past president of both the Wolcott Education Association and CEA Retired and remained steadfast in her union involvement. Brown was a strong supporter of the NEA Fund for Children and


Public Education and for many years was a captain of the CEA Political Action Committee, along with her husband, Bob. Together the two teachers energetically rallied members to contribute to the Fund at county meetings, CEA and NEA Representative Assemblies, and CEA-Retired meetings, and they made it fun by holding auctions for donated prizes or offering to wear an opposing baseball team’s jersey if a predetermined amount was donated. Brown was the Board liaison to the Aspiring


Educators program for years, working with college students on their many activities. She shared their book drive with CEA-Retired members and collected numerous books at CEA-Retired county meetings to be distributed to the schools where Aspiring Educators found the greatest need. Each year at the NEA RA, she connected with the student delegates attending their national meeting, as retired delegates hosted a dinner for the two groups. “CEA will forever be impacted by Gloria’s presence, and we are a stronger organization because of her contributions,” said CEA President Kate Dias. “I will remember her strong convictions, her commitment to all members, especially her beloved aspiring educators, as well as her passion for the profession and deep love of her family.”




Playful Learning: The Work of Childhood Elementary school educators, join us on Thursday, May 18, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. for a virtual session on the how and why of play-based learning. Wallingford elementary teacher Jamie Hocking and CEA Teacher Development Specialist Dr. Kate Field will offer practical tips for implementing play-based learning and discuss how it fosters the executive function skills necessary for success in school and life.


facebook.com/ CTEdAssoc

youtube.com/ ceavideo

cea.org/daily @ceanews


flickr.com/ photos/ceapics



MEDIA SHINES SPOTLIGHT ON TEACHERS’ ISSUES Educators talk salaries, stress, student needs

Heavy burden “Teaching has always been a hard job,” said Staysniak, “and those who were maybe on the edge of leaving the profession decided during the pandemic that they couldn’t do it any longer. The days that are most difficult are when you feel there’s just one more thing put on your plate when your plate is already overflowing. Those are the days when you think, ‘Does anybody know what it takes to get this job done, and is anyone here to help me?’” “We’re covering classes, and sometimes we don’t have enough staff to cover them all,” said Abate, noting that demanding curriculum coupled with greater needs and fewer paraprofessionals and other resources have made teachers’ workloads untenable. “That often means we’re giving up a planning period, or we’re giving up lunch, another piece of our schedule. When we talk about burnout, the special education and elementary school teachers are taking a real thumping, and they’re feeling it.” Indeed, Nyberg noted that a record number of teachers and paraeducators are leaving for other districts or other careers, with student teachers barely making it into the classroom before realizing teaching isn’t for them. In 2022, only three years after being named Connecticut Teacher of the Year, Bridgeport music teacher Sheena Graham—still at the top of her game—retired early, citing burnout as a factor. “Some of the burdens were just getting a little too heavy,” she said. “There’s so much that teachers are now dealing with outside of their subject matter that we find ourselves crying in the car. You’re dealing with whether your classes are too large, whether your working conditions are safe—and that’s everything from ventilation to security.” Now a CEA-Retired member, Graham continues to advocate for her colleagues in the classroom, testifying before the legislature in support of improved teaching and learning conditions in Connecticut’s schools. On the plus side Highlighting the positives about teaching despite the many challenges, teachers shared what they love most about their profession. “There are so many phenomenal educators in Connecticut,” said Graham. “What they’re doing with students on a daily basis, despite the challenges, never ceases to amaze me.” “The best part for me,” Jett said, “is building relationships. I absolutely love working with kids. Those are the positives that keep me coming back every day.” “I love seeing former students come back, show that they’ve succeeded, and talk to you about it,” said Abate. “In fact, one of my students recently took a job here, and those are the stories that are so rewarding.” “Teachers are amazing people,” said Dias. “They are also strong advocates for themselves and their profession, and I think that’s exciting.”

Delving into issues ranging from teacher salaries to burnout, WTNH News Channel 8 aired a month-long series of interviews with educators who shared their personal experiences, ideas for solving new and enduring problems, and the most cherished aspects of their work. The series—Educating Connecticut—wrapped up with a live, televised town hall featuring five teachers and an administrator: CEA President Kate Dias, CEA-Retired member and 2019 Connecticut Teacher of the Year Sheena Graham, Hamden teacher David Abate, New Haven teachers Da’Jhon Jett and Stephen Staysniak, and Senator Douglas McCrory.

Funding solutions “Educators are facing all sorts of issues,” reporter Ann Nyberg led the discussion. “Teacher shortages, school security concerns, mental health challenges, diversity issues, and struggles with teaching the neediest. What are we going to do to help our educators stay in this profession?” “We’re looking at the generational impact of salaries that haven’t kept up with other professions,” Dias said. “This is a female-dominated profession, so for generations, women were told that their wages didn’t need to increase, because they were the second earners. As the profession has evolved, we’ve tried to make gains, but we have these enormous professional standards we’re expected to uphold, and we’re still looking at decades of suppressed wages— sometimes just above the poverty level. We’re asking the legislature for a big investment of dollars to bring teachers’ starting salaries to at least $60,000, because that’s where they belong. It’s what, at a minimum, we should be paying for the level of education and energy that goes into this work.” Diversifying While more than 50% of students are nonwhite, teachers of color make up only about 11% of the profession.

Graham recalled, “It made a huge difference when I had an English teacher who looked like me. I was a child of the sixties, when you didn’t always see people of color in these professions. Having her as an educator showed me there were options I could consider.” “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” Dias agreed. “We need to show our students of color that this is a profession that’s available, accessible, and welcoming to them. That’s through recruiting, through new pathways into the profession for paraeducators, through tuition assistance, and more.” New normal? Much of the conversation turned to issues of school safety, dysregulated students, and both social-emotional and academic issues made worse by a global pandemic. Regarding school safety, Nyberg pointed out that firearms are now the number-one cause of death among the nation’s children and teens. “Despite all our best efforts, Uvalde happened,” Dias said, “and it happened ten years after Sandy Hook. When you think about that, it speaks to the fact that we’re not actually solving the problem. What we need to have are responses to the underlying causes at the root of the

problem—the anxiety, the fears, the trauma and anger students are experiencing—and truthfully, we have to make sure that access to weapons is limited. We’re talking about responsible gun ownership and about making sure children and families are supported.” Pandemic strain Educators noted that problems that existed before COVID have been exacerbated, and children are having difficulty regulating their emotions and handling conflict resolution. “We just don’t have enough counselors to meet the demands,” said Abate. “Without enough school counselors, students often keep things inside.” Students’ academic needs have also deepened as a result of the pandemic, beginning with those in the earliest grades. When schools operated remotely, very young learners missed out on mastering basic skills, such as socializing, sharing, holding a book, turning the pages from right to left, and tracking the print from left to right. Both educators and students have spent much of the last two years struggling to catch up.



EAST LYME EDUCATORS: STUDENTS DESERVE MORE Teachers’ advocacy sways board of education to avoid budget cuts

With a proposal to eliminate more than 18 positions within East Lyme Public Schools for the 2023-2024 school year, CEA and the East Lyme Teachers’ Association (ELTA) have gone into high gear organizing members and community stakeholders to oppose the cuts. “We held meetings to inform members, and we established a coalition with parent organizations as well as unions representing paraeducators and secretaries,” CEA organizer Gloria Dimon explains. CEA also mobilized educators teaching or residing in East Lyme to email the town’s boards of education and finance and coordinated coffee talks where teachers could have one-on-one conversations with BOE members. In a show of solidarity and strength, union members wore #RedForEd to school and at public events, engaged in morning walk-ins, and packed the town’s BOE and BOF meetings, carrying signs and offering public comments. The cuts would include elementary school teachers, paraeducators, an instructional technology coach, and library aides, as well as positions within the Coastal Connections alternative high school program.

gaps for our children, when they continue to care for the social, emotional, and mental health of our children, when they continue to do the excellent work that makes the East Lyme educational system a household name, they are being let go.” “I’m disappointed in the proposed cuts,” parent Emily Shrader told the BOE. “With all that our children have been through the past three years and the negative effect it has had on their academic achievement and emotional growth, now is not the time to decrease our investments in our schools or reduce the services we offer our children.” East Lyme parent and educator Chris Majchrzak noted, “Classroom sizes have increased, student academic needs have increased, student social-emotional needs have increased, special education numbers have increased, disruptive classroom behaviors have increased, and educator expectations and responsibilities have increased, to name just a few. To make further cuts to teachers, paras, and support staff will only undermine our mission to prepare students academically, socially, and emotionally to be responsible, positive forces in this challenging world.”

East Lyme Teachers’ Association President Scott Mahon urges the board of education to reconsider cuts to educator positions.

be able to do math stations, which is something everybody likes.” The BOE listened, amending its budget to avoid educator cuts. Loud and clear Next, CEA members turned out before the BOF, asking them to put the proposed budget—without cuts—before East Lyme voters. “The Board of Ed heard the residents and heard the teachers, and they put forth a budget that is truly ‘children first,’” said educator Amy Farrior, an East Lyme parent and co-president of the Marlborough Education Association. She urged the Board of Finance to do the same. Supported by parents and other school staff, teachers again wore their #RedForEd and offered public comments describing how education cuts would come at a cost to the town. Before the BOF meeting got underway, they marched with signs that read, “Let the Voters Decide” and chanted, “Pay Now—or Pay Later.” At press time, the BOF had not yet begun deliberations on the budget. A decision is expected in mid-April, and a townwide budget referendum will follow on May 18. “If we hadn’t organized, East Lyme stood to lose almost 20 educators at a time when students need more adults and more stability,” says Dimon. “When the budget comes up for a vote in May, we feel confident that the people of East Lyme, who know these educators and understand the value they bring to their community, will do the right thing.”

Hidden costs “I’m an engineer and the father of two little girls, and I hope the board considers the costs associated with larger class sizes, lower test scores, less student attention, less special needs support, extra time and stress directly on teachers,” said parent Brian Zahnstecher (pictured at left). “I’d also like you to hear directly and look in the face of knowing just what this is—and these are not just line items—so I’ve asked my daughter Roxie to describe what it would be like if East Lyme looked more like where we came from, in California, where class sizes under 30 are considered small.” “It would be harder to teach,” the

young elementary schooler explained to the board. “Here, our teacher is actually paying attention to everybody, and if we didn’t have our helper in the morning, then we wouldn’t

Cuts hurt kids “The proposed budget document presented to the public concedes that such drastic reductions will be harmful to the students in East Lyme public schools,” high school English teacher and East Lyme Teachers’ Association President Scott Mahon told BOE members. “Making a cut in one area, the result is felt well beyond a particular classroom. To date, there are approximately nine teaching positions that have been considered expendable reductions, the majority of them in perhaps the most vulnerable of our learning community—the elementary level. That astounds me every time I think of it—that we are going to lose highly trained, highly regarded educators who make a calculable difference in the lives of East Lyme’s children. At a time when the stresses of the last few years have not eased for teachers, when they continue the struggle to close the learning




A teacher’s first years in the classroom are often the most challenging—and a time when educators need all the support their veteran colleagues and peers can give them. “Early career educators are often so busy learning the ropes and managing multiple new responsibilities that they may not feel as connected to their union or as aware of their rights, responsibilities, and the resources available to them,” says CEA Training and Organizational Development Specialist Christopher Teifke. That’s why CEA has piloted a series of events called ONE Young and Union: Empowerment Through Knowledge, tailored to the needs and desires of local associations that want to engage more early career educators and provide opportunities and training geared specifically to that demographic. “ONE stands for Opportunity, Networking, and Empowerment,” says Teifke, “and that’s what we aim to provide to this often-overlooked group. We’ve designed events that are relevant and informative to educators just starting out and that connect them

to their union leaders and to each other. These gatherings are also fun—they give early career educators an opportunity to learn and grow together outside the classroom.” The first two events, held this winter and spring in Groton, were a legal bootcamp where participants were introduced to laws affecting their profession, including laws governing tenure, teacher evaluation, union representation, free speech, use of technology, and social media. “We had a great turnout, and we look forward to the next learning session, which will focus on the Family Medical Leave Act and other important leave provisions,” Teifke says. “The series is geared toward teachers with less than six years’ experience and is free to all CEA members. We’re also happy to bring this program to any local association interested in engaging its newest members.” To learn more about upcoming ONE Young and Union events and to schedule events in your area, contact Teifke ( christophert@ cea.org ) or fellow CEA organizer Gloria Dimon ( gloriad@cea.org ).

At a ONE Young and Union gathering in Groton, early career educators pause for a selfie with CEA organizer Chris Teifke.


A colleague responded that a great fix to the problem would be to have the list of accommodation categories provided as a checklist or drop-down. “That would save hours,” she said. Educators shared that the onerous nature of CT-SEDS results in working nights and weekends and still falling out of compliance with students’ IEPs. Completing a typical IEP now takes 4-6 hours, while a complex one could take 10 12 hours to finish, they reported. “Why don’t we have an 800 number we can call at 2 a.m., when we’re working on IEPs?” one educator asked. Teachers also raised concerns that the platform’s IEP at a glance (the abbreviated document that provides a quick reference to a student’s IEP) doesn’t match the new

education data system, has been fraught with problems since its rollout, and CEA leaders and members have brought their concerns to education officials at various forums. At CEA’s urging, the State Department of Education (SDE) held CT-SEDS Fix-It Forums around the state in March to allow special education teachers to articulate the many problems they are facing and offer suggestions for making the platform better. Bryan Klimkiewicz, special education division director for the SDE, acknowledged the problems with CT SEDS, noting that they added to the burden special education teachers already

Montville’s Tracy Zurowski and CEA Treasurer Stephanie Wanzer, of CES, are among the many special education teachers calling for fixes to CT-SEDS.

faced in light of educator shortages, increasing caseloads, and the lingering effects of the pandemic on students and teachers. “You’re all heroes for the work you do with your students,” he said. “One of the areas I know I need to improve on is open lines of

IEP information entered. Kim Bean, a project manager with the SDE’s Bureau of Special Education, acknowledged the issue and assured teachers it would be resolved in the near future. Educators also explained that CT-SEDS tutorial videos are often not helpful, requiring significant time to find answers to simple questions. According to Klimkiewicz, a new search feature will soon be released. Next steps “Please don’t wait to take action,” one teacher urged. Klimkiewicz said that the SDE was collecting the information teachers shared at the forums and sorting it into themes. “We have a list of enhancements we’re working on, and we want to match those to the issues you’ve identified and make sure we’re prioritizing the right issues.”

communication with teachers.” Major problems The thirty plus educators attending the Hartford forum sat at tables with others who

teach at the same grade level and talked through the CT-SEDS issues they’re facing. Some of the major problems they identified include the following: • A lack of autosave causes teachers to frequently lose their work. • Start and end dates for IEPs are often incorrect. • When writing goals and objectives, the window blocks teachers’ ability to see what they’ve already entered. • The process for categorizing accommodations is cumbersome and, when printed out, the accommodations are no longer categorized. • More support through a help desk phone number or chat is needed. • Processes need to be simplified. Teachers noted that previous systems saved their work automatically. With CT-SEDS, sometimes a green “save” icon appears, but the text entered is not always saved, causing work to be lost. “Goals and objectives are what takes everyone the most time,” one teacher said. “Not being able to see what you entered is a big problem. The window that comes up blocks everything behind it. We’re all doing this work in five minutes here, 10 there, so we lose track of what objective we’re on, and we can’t see anything behind the window. It would be great to just have a window that allows you to see everything at once.” “Why are we spending so much time categorizing these accommodations when they print out as one uncategorized list?” one teacher asked.

Concerned that special education teachers who are overscheduled and unable to attend Fix-It Forums still have valuable input to provide regarding fixing CT-SEDS, one teacher recommended a web portal or email address that would allow educators to submit feedback. Others asked the SDE to help ensure that school districts provide protected time for teachers to write IEPs and do related reporting.

“The state and federal governments have required us to do more than there is time for in a day,” one educator noted. “So many of us are struggling with this. It’s been a dreadful year. We need time to do this work and do it well. I feel better having had this forum and knowing that you’re hearing what we have to say.” Targeted CT-SEDS Training State Department of Education partners are offering additional virtual training on specific aspects of CT-SEDS this spring and summer. Find out more and register: cea.org/ct-seds-training .



CANDID CONVERSATIONS WITH DCF Commissioner answers teachers’ questions about reporting, investigations, what’s working, what’s new

Four years ago, recently appointed Department of Children and Families Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes asked CEA members, “What keeps you up at night?” Teachers detailed their frustration with mountains of paperwork and hours-long hold times on DCF’s Careline. They shared their fears about ordinary teacher-student interactions being misidentified as inappropriate, and unsubstantiated DCF cases held up by career-ending procedural delays. Thanks to outreach by CEA’s legal department, October 2019 marked the first time a DCF commissioner and her leadership team sat down with Connecticut teachers and solicited their input into the DCF process. Dorantes promised it would not be the last. On March 22, 2023—now four years into her job and having weathered a pandemic— Dorantes again joined CEA local and state leaders for a conversation about what’s working when it comes to the teacher-DCF relationship and what still needs to be improved. “We’ve seen an evolution over the last few years,” CEA President Kate Dias said. “We’re

than needed. These districts wait for the formality of a written statement from DCF despite verbal assurances that an investigation isn’t going to be substantiated. CEA’s legal experts plan to partner with DCF to expedite teachers’ return to the classroom and lessen the impact of investigations on educators and their students. Online portal for reporting non-emergency issues DCF had been piloting an online portal for non-emergent reporting when Dorantes talked with educators in 2019, and Careline Operations Director Lisa Daymonde noted that “educators were making some pretty smart decisions about what was immediate and what was something that could be made through the portal.” DCF found that very few reports made online should have actually resulted in a call. “In fact,” said Daymonde, “we learned so much from the pilot with educators, we expanded the portal to all mandatory reporters effective June 6, 2022.” The portal has dramatically reduced call wait time, once a major complaint of educators. Updates to the portal A recent update to DCF’s portal allows educators to start an online report, save it, and come back within 12 hours to finish it, providing time to gather supporting information without losing the information already entered. The portal also allows educators to print the report for their records before it’s submitted as well as upload and attach attendance records and other documents. DCF has added a pop-up feature with helpful tips. Preventative support for families Sometimes educators call DCF because they know a family is in need and don’t know how else to get them help. DCF Bureau Chief of External Affairs Ken Mysogland said that connectingtocarect.org allows educators to find a list of behavioral health supports available in the town where the family lives. By the beginning of next school year, he added, they hope to have in place a care management entity (CME) that will allow educators to call and refer a family in need of support. The CME will connect families with appropriate services. By making it easier for families to get services, Mysogland said, DCF hopes that there will be fewer incidents of abuse and neglect. Documenting DCF’s busiest times Just as the teaching profession is facing a shortage, so is DCF. When it comes to the Careline, October and March are the busiest months, Tuesday is the peak day, and the top time is 2 p.m. Knowing this, Dorantes said, can help teachers anticipate when hold times might be longer. “You have the strongest advocates for you at CEA,” Dorantes told educators. “Even though you’re seeing me in front of you for the first time since 2019, you should know that my office and CEA have had regular conversations throughout the years.” 12 Dos and Don’ts for Teachers Facing Allegations or Complaints of Any Kind 1. DO NOT talk to anyone until you have talked to your CEA UniServ Rep. (The same is true if you are called in to answer questions about a colleague’s behavior.) 2. DO NOT discuss the allegations with a DCF investigator before consulting with CEA Member Legal Services. 3. DO NOT make spontaneous responses to charges brought against you. In crisis, it can be difficult to think clearly. 4. DO NOT appear at an accusatory hearing unless you are accompanied by an Association representative. 5. DO NOT attempt to defend yourself alone. 6. DO NOT accept an “opportunity to resign.” 7. DO NOT submit a written statement to your administrator. 8. DO NOT refuse to carry out an administrator’s orders, even though doing so would violate your contract. Your UniServ Rep will advise you concerning exceptions to this rule. 9. DO NOT do your own investigation (for example, do not contact witnesses), as that may be deemed coercive or disruptive to the DCF investigation. 10. DO NOT prepare a defense (such as reaching out to colleagues or lining up character witnesses). Let CEA Member Legal Services represent you and coordinate the appropriate response to the allegations. 11. DO immediately write down everything that has happened—a narrative including time, date, location, names of involved persons, witnesses, and actual words spoken. Do not submit this written report to anyone until your UniServ Rep has reviewed it. 12. DO keep copies of all correspondence related to the situation.

Holding up a CEA Advisor in which she was first featured, in 2019, DCF Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes reflects on earlier conversations with CEA—what she learned, what’s changed—and outlines the work that lies ahead.

in an interesting space where we’re redefining how we engage and how we get kids the support and services they need. There are still failure-to-report concerns, there is still a weaponizing of DCF against teachers, but we are working together to find common ground.” Can we talk? Local union leaders submitted topics in advance of the forum, held at the Sheraton in Rocky Hill, and took the opportunity to ask candid questions of DCF staff about these and other sensitive issues affecting their colleagues and students: • False claims • Removing unsubstantiated reports from files • Overreporting • Online vs. Careline • DCF questions regarding whether teachers investigated incidents before reporting Questions about DCF? Ask your local union president to schedule a Teachers and the Law workshop, presented free in your district by CEA Member Legal Services experts. Packed with

important information about your legal rights and responsibilities, this CEA members-only information session includes case studies and opportunities for questions and answers.

• Medical and educational neglect • Truancy/chronic absenteeism • Investigation timeframes • Student mental health • Relationships with parents after DCF filing • How schools and teachers can better support families and students involved with DCF • Resources for common issues facing families

Progress report In addition to addressing these issues, Dorantes, joined by a panel of DCF staff, discussed changes made as a result of earlier dialogues with CEA. “We made certain promises,” she said. “Today we have an opportunity to talk about which of those things we’ve been able to make come to fruition.” Relationship building In 2019, one of Dorantes’ goals was to rebuild what had become a tense relationship between DCF and educators. Not only have DCF leaders been in frequent contact with CEA leaders and staff since then, but Dorantes said relationships have improved at the local level as well. Some DCF employees are assigned as liaisons to larger schools and can provide support when questions come up. She urged union leaders to get to know their local DCF representatives so that it’s easy to reach out when questions or concerns arise. Dedicated DCF team for schools Before Dorantes’ tenure as DCF commissioner, there was little consistency across the state in how complaints filed against school employees were investigated. Dorantes and her staff instituted an Educational Investigation Unit, which now has a dedicated team of 12 responsible for investigations involving school employees, bus drivers, daycare employees, and camp staff. Faster return to teaching Being the subject of a DCF investigation is a wrenching experience for an educator, and it’s made worse when that teacher is removed from the classroom for longer than necessary. Thanks to the investigation team now dedicated to schools, teachers are often back in school sooner than they were several years ago, although DCF leaders acknowledged that some districts keep teachers out of the classroom longer

One of the many benefits of union membership is that CEA members may receive free legal representation in various employment-related disputes and complaints, including DCF investigations.



F or years, teachers have struggled with the triple whammy of student loans for undergraduate and master’s degrees, underfunded classrooms, and a paycheck that isn’t enough. In addition to second jobs, they are now also facing attacks on their curriculum, reputation, and personal safety, workdays that bleed into evenings and weekends, and a career with greater responsibilities and fewer rewards. The same union strength and solidarity that led to sweeping legislative changes for Connecticut teachers with the passage of the Education Enhancement Act of 1986 (which raised teacher salaries decades ago) may now bring similar changes for today’s educators. A comprehensive bill containing CEA’s key recommendations for lifting up teachers, students, and public schools is making its way through the Connecticut General Assembly. It would not have gotten this far without strong union advocacy, and it will need a continued push from CEA members to ensure it’s enacted into law. House Bill 6884, An Act Concerning the Recruitment, Retention, and Enhancement of the Teaching Profession, would increase educator salaries and address other critical barriers to teacher recruitment and retention. After a full day of testimony from CEA leaders, members, and staff, the bill passed the legislature’s Education Committee on March 24 and moved to the Appropriations Committee.

recommendations and outlining the importance of this legislation. Coverage came from multiple local news outlets—print, television, and

See the media coverage.

digital—raising public awareness of the challenges teachers face and the urgency behind the proposed laws. “This landmark legislation would reverse decades of policies that led to teacher attrition, a shrinking teacher pipeline, a lack of ethnic and racial diversity in the profession, poor working conditions, and pay that has not kept pace with other professions,” Dias said. “The teaching profession is and has been under tremendous pressure,” said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams, adding, “It’s not every year in the legislative session that we have not only a crisis but the resources—the dollars—to deal with it. If we lift up this profession, then this will be a historic moment that will be remembered not just at the close of this legislative session but next year, five years, 30 years from now.”

CONTINUED PUSH LANDMARK Proposals give teaching

Financial implications Torrington educator Michael McCotter spoke at the press conference and testified before the Education Committee the same day. With a master’s degree and nine years in the classroom, he still struggles financially, earning only slightly more than the proposed minimum salary. “My student loan payments account for 20% of my take-home pay,” he said. “My brother, who works in finance, has a yearly bonus greater than my salary. Despite having to work additional jobs, I still spend hundreds a year on my students for supplies and materials to enrich their learning experience.” “It’s getting more difficult for districts to attract teachers and for educators to stay in teaching when salaries are more competitive elsewhere,” said Dias. “Teachers are taking their experience and leaving for jobs in finance, business, sales, and other professions that offer less stress, more autonomy and respect, and more pay.”

“We are working on fixing educators’ pay so that our teachers are making a living wage and are respected for the contributions they add to our communities and entire society,” said Rep. Jennifer Leeper. “We also recognize the contributions and sacrifices they made educating our children during the pandemic while trying to facilitate learning at home for their own kids. It was a Herculean effort, and they deserve recognition for that. We know that supporting teachers is the most important thing we can do to support our children.”

Help comes in many forms Kristen Basiaga, president of the 500-member-strong Glastonbury Education Association, told lawmakers that HB 6884 and related bills touch on most of her colleagues’ top priorities. “These bills also will help aspiring educators in the pipeline and new teachers in the classroom,” she said. They would establish educator apprenticeships, provide paid student teaching experiences, and remove edTPA, a costly and unnecessary preservice performance assessment. “Unpaid student teaching is a huge barrier to joining the profession,” Basiaga said. “My daughter was seven months old when I began student teaching. I had to work full time and pay for full-time daycare and insurance, but I wasn’t receiving pay for the work I was doing. I was only able to student teach because of the support of my family. Not all aspiring educators have that support. If we want to recruit new teachers to the profession, we have to pay them a living wage. Passing these bills could shape our profession for the better.”

What’s in the bill? Among other things, HB 6884 and similar proposals call for • A statewide minimum teacher salary and funding for salary increases • COVID pension benefit enhancement • Teacher tax credits • An end to edTPA, the ineffective assessment of student teachers’ performance • Kindergarten start age of five by September 1 • Play-based learning in the early grades • Uninterrupted, duty-free prep time • An Educator Bill of Rights Out in force “Heavy input from CEA members made this progress possible,” said Kate Dias. “In the span of a day or two, more than 600 CEA members reached out to lawmakers urging the passage of this bill. Dozens more testified live— many in person, others via Zoom—all speaking to their own experiences regarding salaries, prep time, help for dysregulated students, financial barriers to entering or remaining in the profession, and more.” But, she cautioned, “Our work isn’t over. The bill is now before the Appropriations Committee, which has until April 21 to act. They could pass the bill as is, or with changes, and send it to the full House for a vote—or they could kill the bill completely. So we have to keep those conversations going. We need to keep calling, emailing, and talking with legislators who will ultimately decide whether the bill becomes a law or dies. Time is always short, so it’s critical that our teachers watch their emails for CEA Action Alerts and respond to those requests immediately, as they did earlier in the legislative session.” Setting the stage Ahead of the Education Committee’s public hearing on HB 6884 and related bills, CEA held a widely publicized news conference, releasing a policy brief with

“While I entered the profession prepared to make financial sacrifices, many entering college and choosing a profession are deterred from teaching by the low salary,” added McCotter. “The first five years I was teaching, I lived with my parents so that I could save money for graduate school, as a master’s degree is required of teachers. In order to recruit new teachers, we need to have a starting salary that demonstrates teaching is a respected profession and supports the expected financial impact of additional schooling.” Olivia DeLoach, a senior at Mitchell College who is student teaching seventh grade in Waterford, identified a series of costs associated with becoming a certified teacher—from unpaid student teaching to student loan debt and Praxis exams—against a starting salary that, she said, “brings up the hard question: How am I going to afford the things I need?”

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