WE HAVE A TEACHER SHORTAGE CEA February – March 2023 • Volume 65, Number 4 • Publ ished by the Connecticut Education Associat ion • cea.org



Leading: Our Perspective

Spring is right around the corner—we can feel it in the air. In this season of growth and renewal, CEA is focused on renewing our profession, our resolve to improve our working conditions, and our commitment to our members, including the fight for better salaries.

reading survey has been suspended and free school lunches for students have been extended this year (see page

9). A tremendous overhaul awaits teacher evaluation in April, thanks to CEA’s collaboration with education leaders and the State Department of Education. This is a big change that has been a long time coming! Speaking of the power of stories, participate in CEA training designed to amplify your voice and establish you as a teacher leader for equity and change. Workshops like 1, 2, 3…Eyes on Me walk you through the how and why of sharing your story with legislators. On a more personal level, think about how you’ve made a lasting impact on a student’s life. See page 11 for real-life teacher stories and share your own in CEA’s Because of a Teacher campaign. Just getting started? Our popular Early Career Educator Conference is designed especially for members in their first seven years of teaching. Come together with colleagues from every corner of the state and learn from each other and from mentors about improving your practice and make the most of your union membership. The conference takes place on March 25, and registration is open now. And remember the power of staying local: Regional County Forums offer an opportunity to talk to other local educators and discuss issues specific to you; check CEA’s events listing online for dates and locations. While the legislative session is our primary focus right now, it’s only a part of our work as a union. May 12–13 is the 175 th CEA Representative Assembly (RA), our time to gather, celebrate, and make decisions about the future of our organization. We will follow that up with the NEA Representative Assembly July 2–6 in Orlando, where we get to participate in a national vision for the future of teaching. Both assemblies are the highest governing bodies of our organizations, and adding your voice to the mix is a terrific opportunity. If you are interested in attending either RA, your local president has details on becoming a delegate. This is your time. Seize the day, tell your story, and demand a better future for yourself, your colleagues, and your students. February 21, 2023

The legislative session is moving along fast and furious, with our work situated front and center. Forty-five members strong, the Education Committee is the third-largest committee in the legislature this year, and committee members are focused on making education a top priority, starting with solutions to the teacher shortage (see story, pages 4–5). Discussions about play, kindergarten start age, funding, school safety, class size, salaries, and pandemic pension credits are just a few of the early conversations we have been having with legislators. We are pushing hard to ensure your needs are at the center of this session, and we kicked off that effort with a legislative breakfast on February 4—the coldest day in recent history. Despite the weather (frozen pipes and dead batteries), teachers and legislators showed up in force. The day was full of opportunities to share our experiences with the people who will make decisions about our funding and working conditions. Educators shared their concerns about their salaries, growing expectations placed on them, and the overwhelming workload of special education teachers specifically, including the problematic CT-SEDS program and the need to fix it (see story on pages 6–7). Legislators encouraged all CEA members to reach out and keep the conversation going; your stories have great power to shape the narrative of the legislative session and its outcome. Looking ahead, we have a lot of additional opportunities to engage. Sign up for the CEA Daily and look out for Action Alerts that let you know when our issues are being discussed and debated and when legislators need to hear your perspective. (Read story on pages 8–9.) Mark your calendar for CEA Lobby Day at the Capitol on April 26, where you can speak one-on one with local lawmakers about issues affecting your profession and your day-to-day. Add your voice to the legislative process—your stories matter! Thanks to your advocacy at every level, we’ve scored some great wins already. Because you shared your experiences with legislators and leaders, the SURVEYING When CEA took the pulse of Connecticut voters, we found that they overwhelmingly back teachers and CEA’s efforts to support them. Read how having the public on our side can help move the needle on key issues. Teachers explain why their colleagues are disappearing from the classroom, what that looks like, and how to fix it. CT-SEDS, the state’s new special education data system, has been plagued with problems since its rollout. Teachers detail the program’s many shortcomings, and upcoming Fix-It Forums are aimed at solving them. More than 100 educators met with elected officials over breakfast to describe the challenges facing today’s teachers and hear how lawmakers plan to help. CEA’s Because of a Teacher campaign continues to shine a spotlight on educators, whose influence often lasts a lifetime. Hear 4-5 REBUILDING 6-7 REMEDYING 8-9 ADVOCATING 10-11 CELEBRATING IN THIS ISSUE 3

Kate Dias, CEA President

Joslyn DeLancey, CEA Vice President

Donald E. Williams Jr. CEA Executive Director

CEA GOVERNANCE Kate Dias • President Joslyn DeLancey • Vice President Tara Flaherty • Secretary

Stephanie Wanzer • Treasurer

Tanya Kores • NEA Director Katy Gale • NEA 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

from former students about some of the special figures in their lives, and see what other CEA projects have been recognized for communications excellence. The CEA Representative Assembly (RA) and NEA RA are in the offing. Meet newly elected delegates and candidates. If your local has fewer than 76 members, learn how to send county cluster delegates to the 2023 NEA RA. Connecticut is home to some of the finest educators anywhere, so it’s no surprise that they continue to be recognized at the national level. Meet two of the latest honorees. Count on CEA’s Action Alerts, social media, and more to keep you up to speed on everything happening in the 2023 legislative session and ways you can make sure it ends in victory for public education.


CEA Advisor

February – March 2023 Volume 65, Number 4 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.



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Production date: 2-24-2023




While Connecticut is experiencing a public education crisis that includes a crippling teacher shortage, the state has both the capacity and overwhelming voter support to turn that around. That was the key message at a news conference where CEA released findings of a survey that explored Connecticut residents’ views on public schools and teachers and underscored voters’ desire to prioritize education this legislative session. The survey found, among other things, that widespread teacher burnout and shortages are among the top education concerns for the state’s registered voters and that strong support exists for a wide range of proposals to address those concerns—including higher pay and a secure retirement for teachers, more school funding, and additional resources for students’ mental health. Community concerns, consensus “Our communities recognize that teachers are not getting the salaries that professionals with commensurate responsibilities and education are earning,” said CEA President Kate Dias, adding, “We are at that moment where we either make a decision to invest in and uplift this profession or continue to watch our public school teachers look for a better offer. Good public schools draw families and businesses to this state, so teachers are a phenomenal investment. This is a moment of opportunity. We have the opportunity to right this ship.”

“Connecticut should make sure that all kids, no matter where they live, know the state is supporting them and their educational pursuits and not leaving it to cities or small towns that can’t afford it,” said Ritter. Improving education, he said, also means reducing class sizes, supporting teachers, and— another priority for Connecticut voters—addressing school indoor air quality. (See story at right.) “Teachers are professionals,” said Currey. “They are due respect, because they are trained and educated to teach our children day in and day out, often spending more time with them than their own families have the ability to. Let’s focus on that this session, and let’s get it right. It’s going to take every legislator and everyone advocating. I really appreciate CEA and all the information they’ve provided to make sure we’re moving forward in a direction that is going to be positive for the students, educators, and families of Connecticut.” “We have to elevate the teaching profession to the level our teachers deserve and look at all the proposals CEA is outlining for us—the salaries, retirement, and class sizes,” McCarty agreed. “From my very first entry into the legislature, I believed all children are due a quality education, and that means equitable funding throughout the state. But we can’t do any of the work in education unless we have teachers in the classrooms.” McCarty acknowledged the tremendous responsibilities, stress, and anxiety heaped on teachers since the beginning of the pandemic and urged her colleagues to build upon the work of recent General Assemblies to make education their top priority. Back to the future A similar groundswell of support for teachers decades ago resulted in meaningful change that turned a profession plagued by dire shortages into a respected career choice. “I’m reminded of the Teacher Enhancement Act, passed in 1986,” said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams. “The legislature joined together—Republicans and Democrats, in a bipartisan effort—to lift up not only teaching but public education in general. They invested over a billion dollars, adjusted for inflation, to increase teachers’ salaries and support public schools for the benefit of students across the state. We desperately needed that at the time, and I would argue that we are in a very similar place in 2023. Teacher salaries have fallen behind, students’ needs are greater than ever, and attracting new educators is more critical than ever. We do that by investing. There aren’t many occasions where the existence of great challenges and needs corresponds with the availability of resources to fully meet those challenges and needs. We have that today.” Speaking for the next generation of educators, CEA Aspiring Educators Program Vice Chairs Kate Cummings and Marlee Greenlaw offered, “As the future teachers of Connecticut, we have firsthand experience with the issues preventing youth from entering this profession.” Many students hoping to become educators, they explained, face hurdles that include the financial difficulties of extra test fees and unpaid student teaching as well as the stress of succeeding at the edTPA teacher assessment. “College classrooms are full of students who would like to become teachers, yet there is still a teacher shortage,” Cummings said. “Education must be at the top of the agenda this legislative session not only for current teachers but for

aspiring educators as well. We are the future, we are listening, and we will be watching the legislative session closely.” VOTERS SAY YES TO SCHOOL INDOOR AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENTS School indoor air quality is a key priority CEA is bringing before lawmakers this legislative session (see pages 4–5), and CEA’s most recent survey of voters finds overwhelming support for new and updated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in schools.

Almost all voters (91%) support establishing temperature and humidity standards to eliminate poor air quality that results in mold and contributes to respiratory health problems for students and staff. Fifty seven percent strongly support this proposal. “This isn’t a new problem,” says CEA President Kate Dias. “Too many Connecticut classrooms have HVAC systems that are aging, in disrepair, or in urgent need of replacement. The need for new and updated HVAC systems is about ensuring we have safe, healthy school communities where teachers can teach and students can learn.” The survey also found that 88% of voters support requiring districts to show they are meeting school indoor air quality standards. More than half, 54%, strongly support this proposal. “Right now, districts don’t have to report maintenance of their HVAC systems, and schools don’t have to have minimum or maximum temperature standards for students," says Dias. “Classrooms are poorly ventilated and cold in the winter, with students having to wear coats and gloves indoors. In the warmer months they are sweltering, leaving students unable to concentrate on learning due to high heat and humidity levels.” By way of comparison, laws prohibit temperatures in pet stores from going below 65 degrees or above 78 degrees. When it comes to funding, 89% of voters support identifying funding sources, such as school construction grants, to assist cities and towns with heating and cooling system installations or repairs. “Too often, when budget cuts hit school districts, the first thing to go is maintenance, and that’s one of the main reasons so many of our school HVAC systems are in poor condition,” Dias says. She adds, “Improving the air in our schools says we as a state care. It says protecting the health and safety of everyone in our public schools is of paramount importance. It says we’re invested. It says our public schools are great places to grow and to work.”

of voters say teachers’ compensation should be comparable to or higher than professions with similar education and training requirements

of voters favor more state funding to cities and towns for teacher salaries

of voters believe teachers who worked during the height of the

COVID-19 pandemic should receive “hero pay” or other compensation for that work

Legislative support Joining CEA leaders at the news conference were more than a dozen Democratic and Republican legislators, including House Speaker Matthew Ritter, Education Committee Co-Chair Jeff Currey, Education Committee Ranking Member Kathleen McCarty, CEA members Kevin Brown and Chris Poulos, and fellow representatives Hector Arzeno, Robin Comey, Michelle Cook, Dominique Johnson, Sarah Keitt, Jennifer Leeper, Corey Paris, Moira Rader, and Mary Welander.




By mid-November, nearly three months into the school year, New London Public Schools had 74 unfilled positions. Bridgeport, Danbury, and other districts continue to face similar shortages. And while the challenge could be seen as an urban problem, the reality is that rural and suburban districts across Connecticut, from Greenwich and Fairfield to Plainfield and Killingly, have been scrambling, and often failing, to fill school vacancies. More educators are leaving jobs they once loved—in the middle of the school year—and fewer college students and professionals from other disciplines are looking to take their place. Burgeoning demands, diminishing supports, pay that hasn’t kept pace with other professions, and an erosion of respect are among a host of issues driving new and experienced educators into other careers, pushing some into early retirement, and discouraging a growing number of talented candidates from entering the profession at all. A 2022 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office acknowledged, “Negative perception of the teaching profession and perceived lack of support for current teachers are among key recruitment and retention challenges.” Growing challenges, diminishing returns Entry into the field of education has long been driven by the prospect of intrinsic rewards: the joy of making a difference in the life of a student. Unfortunately, the rewards are dwindling as educators feel devalued and disregarded and students exhibit deepening disengagement. Significant drivers are standardized testing and the erosion of teacher autonomy. “Experienced teachers have retired in the last couple of years because of the increase in state and local mandates placed on educators, many of which have taken the joy out of teaching and learning,” confronting additional work-related issues, including more responsibilities due to staffing shortages and political attacks and harassment for everything from mask-wearing to discussing or teaching curriculum concepts related to race, gender, and bias. Dysregulated, disruptive, and violent student behaviors related to trauma or mental health challenges have risen steeply as well. In the 2021-2022 school year, nearly six out of Plainfield Education Association President Janet Piezzo explains. Since the pandemic, teachers are also dissatisfied with the many difficult daily conditions they face • Nearly all teachers say stress and burnout are serious concerns • Three in four are more likely to leave teaching earlier than previously planned Nationally, teachers earn less than other college graduates, an imbalance often referred to as the teacher wage penalty. In 2021, the earning gap between teachers and non-teacher college graduates grew to 33 percent. (In Connecticut, where unions and support for educators are both stronger than in many parts of the country, that wage penalty is closer to 17 percent.) From 2016 to 2021, the total number of Connecticut college graduates who completed teacher preparation programs declined by 16 %, from 2,132 to 1,788. The cost of becoming a teacher is another factor. Tuition at Central Connecticut State University for the 2022-2023 year is $12,026 per year, not including meals, housing, and other fees. Additionally, student teachers are unpaid for their time as embedded interns, and they are prohibited every ten school leaders said a major concern was an increase in student disciplinary issues, and more than one in four teachers identify student behavior as their top source of job-related stress. An October 2022 CEA survey of Connecticut teachers paints a troubling picture: • Nearly three in four teachers are

by their programs from working anywhere for pay during their semester-long assignment. Testing fees also place an added burden on prospective educators, many of whom will graduate with significant student debt and starting salaries lower than those of their similarly educated peers. To add to the problem, chronic underfunding of schools has long forced teachers to dip into their own pockets to purchase basic classroom supplies, to the tune of hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. “We are given a limit of two reams of paper per month,” says Bridgeport Education Association President Ana Batista, a bilingual teacher.

“Everything else is out of pocket. If you need extra resources or want to make your classroom more attractive, that’s all your own money.” Too much “Our district is doing the best they can to hire qualified people,” Batista says, “but we’ve had to


collapse classes because of a lack of teachers and find settings to accommodate larger classes—up to 29 students, or up to 24 in kindergarten, with no paraeducators. Art and music teachers get pulled in to cover, losing their own prep time. Substitute paras might be shared between two or three classrooms, and they are hard to recruit and retain. By October of this school year, one Bridgeport teacher was on her 15th substitute paraeducator. If you are sick or your own child is sick, you worry about your students—the anxiety involved in knowing they will be split up among other teachers and split up from each other.” “Over the past decade of continued underfunding and continued high growth in enrollment, we face severe understaffing, high class sizes, and insurmountable caseloads for our counselors, school psychologists, social workers, and speech-language pathologists,” says Danbury Education Association President Erin Daly, an elementary school teacher. “Special education teachers lack adequate staff support to help meet the needs of their students due to the severe shortage of tutors and paraprofessionals. Teachers’ workload is unrealistic, and we are continuously missing prep time to cover other classes.” Batista adds, “There are constant new initiatives without any responsibilities taken away, and the professional development teachers want and need is frequently not offered to us. The strain on early career educators is particularly acute. It’s a tremendous workload in those first years while many new teachers are juggling weekend lesson plans, graduate school, administrative paperwork, and constant emails from parents, students, and administrators.” Batista believes veteran teachers should receive stipends and release time to mentor new teachers, including younger teachers and career changers. “We need to support them,” she says. “I’ve talked to teachers who are falling apart.” Too little Aside from workload, working conditions are often a problem. “Over half of our schools still lack air conditioning, and there are heating issues as well,” says Batista, who adds that some Bridgeport schools lack parking lots or adequate street parking. CEA is seeking legislative fixes to improve working conditions, including a bill to establish minimum and maximum temperatures in schools. “There is very little to entice new teachers to work here,” Daly agrees. “Danbury’s school buildings are in disrepair, without working bathrooms and sinks, without mold-free classroom spaces, without heating and cooling systems that work properly. Those who do decide to take a job here often leave after a short period of time for a surrounding district offering not just higher pay but fairer, safer working conditions. As a result, we’re in a constant state of hiring, with dozens upon dozens of unfilled positions. We have not been fully staffed in several years.”

More than six in ten educational degree holders regret completing an education degree.

Teachers 30%

16% Engineers

19% Nurses & Lawyers

30% of teachers leave within five years of starting their careers, compared to 16% of engineers and 19% of nurses and lawyers.


41% Connecticut’s teacher preparation programs (traditional four-year and Alternate Route to Certification) declined by 41% from 2010 to 2018.


Inequitable pay, funding “We’ve struggled with the same issues cropping up nationwide, with high turnover, teacher burnout, and difficulty filling positions because our salary schedule just wasn't competitive with other districts,” says Killingly Education Association President Nicola Able, a high school English language arts teacher. “Our district held a job fair and has tried hard to fill our vacancies, and our board of education recognized that they needed to offer more money to stop teachers from leaving. That was a focal point for our union’s recent negotiation, which was very successful.” “There’s always more than one factor at play when people leave one district for another, but I can tell you that more than a dozen teachers from my school alone recently left for jobs in higher paying districts,” says Fairfield Education Association President Bob Smoler, a math teacher at Warde High School. Neighboring districts where Fairfield teachers have accepted new positions include Westport, Weston, Norwalk, and New Canaan. In nearby Redding, elementary school teacher and local association president Melissa Null, says, “We have many teachers who come from other districts for higher salaries and less trouble.” “I really wish that things were more equitable within my own district and throughout the state,” Batista says. “Every single month, teachers are leaving and taking all their experience with them. They’re leaving for jobs in finance or business or for teaching positions in bordering towns offering more money and a lighter load.”

Piezzo, who teaches math at Plainfield Central Middle School, says her district has encountered similar challenges. “We’re facing a teacher shortage with many remaining openings because teacher salaries are lower here than elsewhere in Windham County,” she says. “Mandates for teachers are the same across the state, but educators in poorer districts have fewer


At a roundtable with the state’s education commissioner, recent Connecticut Teachers of the Year and finalists talked about financial, practical, and other barriers to the profession and how to remove them. “We’re seriously debating walking away from jobs we love to have a salary that pays for more than just childcare,” said one.

resources and lower pay. Milk and eggs cost about the same in a small, poor community as in a wealthy one, but your earnings are lower, which eventually impacts your retirement. Compensation is one aspect of feeling valued by a community and the state.” Batista notes that smaller class sizes are also a draw for teachers who change districts. “Imagine the difference in workload between having 17 students and 29 students,” she says. “Fewer students translates to less time spent on paperwork, grading, attendance, testing, PPTs, administrative work

related to field trips, and more. Policymakers have to make our field more rewarding.” “Without systemic policy change and major investment in education, teachers will continue to migrate to surrounding towns and neighboring New York for better opportunities for their teaching careers,” says Daly. CEA’s 2023 legislative agenda includes numerous measures to address teacher recruitment and retention. (See below.) Watch for CEA Action Alerts in your inbox and help move these key proposals forward.


Here are some key proposals in CEA’s legislative agenda. See more at cea.org/teacher-priorities .




• Teacher salaries comparable to other, similarly educated professions • A minimum teacher salary • Tuition assistance, paid student teaching, and tax credits for early educators • Elimination of edTPA

• Beginning salaries for teachers are not comparable to those of similarly educated professionals, and in some districts, new teachers qualify for certain state assistance for low-income residents. • Certified teachers with advanced degrees should not have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. • EdTPA is costly and fails to prepare new teachers for real classroom experiences. • Crowded classrooms and a lack of supports negatively impact students academically and socially and contribute to teacher burnout. • Special education populations are growing, as are student needs. • Uninterrupted teacher prep time is essential to ensure teachers have adequate time to prepare lesson plans and respond to students’ needs. • Children’s educational experiences have eroded over the past two decades, and their anxiety has increased. • Overreliance on standardized tests takes away critical learning time and hasn’t translated into durable academic gains or narrowed achievement gaps. Students in the U.S. are not more competitive globally today than they were a decade ago. • Play is essential to children’s healthy cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development, and the loss of playtime in the early grades because of increased standardized testing has contributed to high levels of childhood anxiety, dysregulated behavior, and school disengagement. • Teachers were treated as essential workers but not rewarded as such. Compensating them acknowledges the risks they faced and unique services they provided during the pandemic. • Two-thirds of Connecticut schools have reported indoor air quality problems. • Nearly a third of our schools lack air conditioning, and even more have HVAC systems rated no better than fair or poor. • Poor indoor air quality adversely affects student and teacher health and performance and can have long term consequences.


• Guaranteed planning time • Smaller class sizes • Reduced special education caseloads • Additional supports, including more paraeducators


• Alternatives to standardized tests, including new metrics for measuring student growth • A statewide audit of the dollars and hours spent on standardized testing


• Play-based learning in preK and kindergarten • Play-based instructional strategies through fifth grade


• COVID-19 service credit acknowledging the work teachers did in the early years of the pandemic


• Air quality standards for schools, including minimum and maximum temperatures and humidity levels • Oversight and enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with new school indoor air quality requirements • Sustained, long-term funding to help cities and towns with school infrastructure improvements, such as air conditioning installation and HVAC repairs



‘IT HAS BEEN A NIGHTMARE’: SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHERS EXPRESS NEED TO FIX CT-SEDS State rollout of fraught IEP system plagued by technical glitches, lack of training, massive demands on teachers’ time

Teachers are no strangers to novel instructional programs, new assessment and grading mechanisms, changing curricula, standardized test burdens, and other trends and mandates: a constant learn-and-churn that often cuts into meaningful time teaching and connecting with students. But the State Department of Education’s recent rollout of CT-SEDS, a data system with a new approach to writing students’ individualized education plans (IEPs), has left thousands of special education teachers and their students in the lurch—with nothing to show for it but hours of rework, frustration, and unmet student needs. “The only way teachers can find the extra time to navigate this burdensome system is to spend less time with their students or less time with their families, and neither is acceptable,” says CEA President Kate Dias. “CT-SEDS was supposed to improve the flow of information with a new statewide data management system and what the SDE called “‘intuitive, easy to-use displays,’” says CEA’s Robyn Kaplan-Cho, whose areas of expertise include special education. “In reality, it has been a nightmare.” A task force of special education teachers and related services providers convened by CEA has documented the problems with CT-SEDS and recommended • Compensation for additional hours worked • Remediation of technical glitches discovered throughout the rollout period • Ongoing training during the workday and in-person professional development for educators on using the system with fidelity • Online technical support for special cases • Release time to write IEPs and monitor progress. Among educators’ feedback: • “What used to take an hour is now taking as long as five or six—sometimes ten—because of glitches, input being erased and having to be re-entered, and other problems. There’s not enough time to complete our IEPs during the school day along with all the other case management tasks that need to be completed, and precious time is being taken away from students. I get home, make dinner, take care of my kids, get them to bed, and then spend another four hours with this system. It’s unsustainable.” • “Information on CT-SEDS is not always saving. It disappears even after pressing the ‘save’ button multiple times.” • “A major lack of training means we are flying blind.” • “To say that we are frustrated does not even scratch the surface of what is going on. After the two-plus years of COVID we have come off of, the hits just keep coming.” Taking their case to the state CEA Treasurer Stephanie Wanzer, a special education teacher with Cooperative Educational Services, told the State Board of Education in February about her own experience with the software, as did CEA members Danielle Fragoso and Georgann Stokes, special education teachers from Madison and Cromwell, respectively. With every upcoming planning and placement team (PPT) meeting, Wanzer, who has worked for 28 years at a regional education service center (RESC), said she now worries about whether she can complete all her work on time. Many of her colleagues report that they are required to maintain caseloads across two data systems—the previous IEP Direct and the new CT-SEDS— creating confusion and double work. “CT-SEDS is incredibly time-consuming, putting additional strain on special education

“The stress posed by spending evenings and weekends on paperwork that is critically important but takes hours outside the workday has led to unprecedented rates of teacher burnout,” Avon teacher Jon Moss told elected officials—most of whom had not heard of CT-SEDS—at CEA’s Breakfast with Legislators. (See story, pages 8–9.) “We have inundated our special education teachers and related service providers, including school counselors, psychologists, and speech-language pathologists. I want to point out I’m not a special education teacher, but the issues facing our special education teachers affect every single teacher in the district.” CEA has reached out to special education teachers and related service providers in various districts to weigh in on the myriad technical glitches, inadequate training, and inordinate amount of time it takes to complete an IEP using CT-SEDS. In addition to Wanzer, Fragoso, and Stokes, those educators include Jen Hayes (Bridgeport), Cara Brown (Waterbury), Kate Curcio (Darien), Melissa D’Orazio (Southington), Linda Poland (Manchester), Helena Richards (West Hartford), Lauren Rogers (Woodstock), Caryn Vita (New Canaan), and Matthew Zabroski (Glastonbury). Caseloads have steadily increased, and special education needs are outpacing the ability to provide services. If you and your colleagues have expectations that are impossible to meet, work with your local president and CEA UniServ representative to resolve the matter at the local level. CEA Training and Organizational Development Specialist Christopher Teifke offers the following tips: • Assess what you are actually able to accomplish within your working hours. Email your supervisor with your schedule and list of duties and ask which tasks should be prioritized. If your supervisor believes all tasks can be completed within work hours, request specific guidance. That may result in more realistic expectations. • If your supervisor tells you all tasks must be completed regardless of working hours, ask how you should properly log the extra hours outside your workday to be paid. The idea is to have supervisors acknowledge that you are expected to work beyond your normal working hours and, as such, are entitled to compensation for that time. “Because teachers doing this work all have such big hearts, they will often do it anyway, which leads me to my next point,” says Teifke. “The more you continue to do work without compensation beyond your normal working hours, the more the practice becomes normalized. Meet with your fellow union members. It’s essential that if you are seeking help, you are all on the same page, as a union. Many voices with the same message speak louder than single voices getting drowned out.” WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW

teachers, who have always needed to work way beyond their contracted hours to write IEPs and evaluation reports,” she said. “My colleagues are leaving the profession because it’s impossible to meet all the demands put on us.” Stokes, who teaches at the kindergarten level, detailed many of the program’s glitches and told the State Board of Education, “Even before the pandemic, there was a shortage of special education teachers and paraeducator supports. CT SEDS, along with factors such as budget cuts and lack of resources, weighs heavily on special education teachers, who have to absorb the needs of our most vulnerable students. This is a disservice to our students and the families who rely on us to ensure their children get access to appropriate education in the least restrictive environment.” A special education teacher since 1995, Fragoso told the board, “The pressures being put on us as the years have progressed are untenable. More and more is being expected of us, and rolling out a new IEP management system on the heels of COVID was not the best timing. The system is not intuitive, and instructions provided by the state are so wordy and cumbersome, I don’t use them as a reference. When you have five plates in the air, you don’t have time.” She added, “As educators responsible for the neediest of children, we deserved a better rollout, and so did our students. A dedicated helpline would be a start. Compensating teachers for the extra time spent for their work would honor our time as professionals. Please consider taking the pulse of your teachers and help them be the best they can be. We can fix these issues together.” Special education teachers Georgann Stokes (above) and Danielle Fragoso (right) told the State Board of Education about the many problems special education teachers face when using CT-SEDS. FIX-IT FORUMS Members’ pleas were heard, and CEA is working with the State Department of Education to hold several Fix-It Forums where educators can share their CT-SEDS experiences with education officials, with the goal of finding immediate and long-term solutions. Watch your inbox for dates and locations. Time, training, technology Problems with CT SEDS fall into several broad categories with considerable overlap. Training in the new program was inadequate, forcing teachers to learn by trial and error while scrambling to meet the needs of their students and the legal requirements associated with IEPs. The program’s design is seen as less than ideal, and the technology behind it is often problematic. To make matters worse, during the initial phase of the rollout, questions directed to the help desk went unanswered for days or weeks. The combination of these factors has meant that time spent creating IEPs has grown exponentially.


TIME Hayes: The amount of time spent on one IEP equals the same amount I probably have spent doing three or four. It has become the most negative experience of my total teaching career. Stokes: I spend about two to four hours after my family goes to bed writing evaluations and progress reports and answering parent emails. It’s unsustainable, and it’s causing teachers to burn out and leave the profession for other careers. Fragoso: At the beginning of the year, it was taking me about three hours to complete one IEP. At the present moment, it is probably taking me 2.5

ADMINISTRATORS WEIGH IN In a letter to Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker this past fall, school superintendents expressed deep concerns about CT-SEDS and asked for a pause in the program. “To say that our districts are experiencing a myriad of problems with utilizing the CT-SEDS system would be an understatement of the highest magnitude,” their letter read. “Teachers who could previously utilize our existing systems for IEP document preparation very efficiently...now find themselves spending upwards of 10–20 hours to create an IEP document, with multiple visits to various locations looking for information on how to solve problems encountered in using the technology, and calls and emails to a help desk that often go unanswered in any meaningful way.” In fact, in the early rollout of the program, wait times for a callback ranged from seven to nine days. “This is particularly frustrating,” the letter went on, “because we know that there was a pre-rollout pilot program where many of the problems we are now seeing were previously identified by the pilot districts, and yet, those problems do not appear to have been addressed before beginning the statewide rollout. We simply do not have the time available to us to take on the massive task of solving all of the problems that we encounter, and the very act of trying to solve these problems is resulting in a severe exacerbation of existing staff shortages as teachers and staff decide that they no longer wish to try to engage with this process and choose retirement or other careers over these frustrations. “The scale of the problems that we are encountering is massive. Many districts have scores of IEPs that cannot be finalized due to some issue with the CT-SEDS program, and so the IEPs remain in ‘draft’ form.” In an attempt to resolve these issues and provide clearer instructions, the SDE issued a series of manuals and emails. “There are currently 17 of these manuals, and the information is scattered over various locations and platforms, rather than all being located in one, easy-to navigate FAQ section or other technical assistance format,” superintendents pointed out, adding, on the subject of help desk support, “Days and sometimes weeks pass with no substantive response or assistance in solving our problem or directing us to the location where the answer can be found.” This is in sharp contrast to the previous system, which not only provided instant access to a searchable online directory for solutions to technical problems but also had a help line staffed with knowledgeable people who would walk users through solutions on the spot. “As you know, there are very tight timelines in the special education regulations that require that we provide a complete copy of the child’s IEP to the parents no later than five school days following the PPT meeting,” administrators added. “We are not able to meet this requirement when it takes us weeks to get a response…” Poland: I was chosen as one of the building experts to take part in the four-hour remote training over the summer. After that training, I in no way felt like a building expert. TRAINING Stokes: Teachers have attended the online sessions available through the state with questions about specific scenarios. The typical response from trainers at the beginning of the sessions has been, “We are not talking about specific circumstances in this training.” This has caused immense frustration and forces teachers to have to work out of school hours to watch webinars and YouTube videos in order to learn how to use the platform on our own. There has been no time provided during the school day for professional development on how to use this system with fidelity. Vita: The four-hour workshop we went to in August was a brief overview that made the whole system appear seamless and well-thought-out, which in fact it is not. It did not prepare me in any way to actually work with the system. Seeing slides and having someone breeze through an explanation is not training. We never got to interact with the system until faced with an actual IEP. I was the first one in my school to have to use it, and everything I learned about CT-SEDS I learned on my own, by trial and error.

TECHNOLOGY Stokes: I’ve received countless emails from my administrator and colleagues about not being able to access certain features of the CT-SEDS digital platform and having to wait for technical assistance. Some glitches require us to enter and re-enter information that disappears when switching between screens or after it has been ‘saved.’ The result is delays in mandated paperwork, which can put us out of compliance with state and federal laws. Fragoso: One of my biggest frustrations with the program is the five-minute timeout feature. If I’m interrupted while working on an IEP and forget to save, my work is gone. (After Fragoso’s comments at the State Board of Education meeting, this important fix to the five-minute timeout was made. See below.)

hours. Some teachers have spent over ten hours on a single IEP. Zabroski: Anyone who relies on this program to produce IEPs is constantly running into issues with completing our work,

spending unreasonable amounts of time inputting

information and having to correct where and how that information appears. After one of my peers spent close to an hour-and-a-half working on an IEP, everything she had entered in CT SEDS appeared to be saved, as she had clicked all appropriate ‘save’ icons. The next day, she went into the same IEP to complete it. (Incidentally, an hour-and-a-half would have been all it took to complete an entire IEP in the platform we used previously.) She found that none of the information she had entered was there. She shared that she sat in front of her computer and cried. I’ve heard stories like this from my special education peers in multiple districts. Vita: It takes forever to complete an IEP, especially with all the glitches and issues. And progress is taking more than twice as long. I've done about six IEPs so far, and I've had to contact the help desk for half of them. We should be compensated by the state for the amount of time we are spending on this system, which is taking us away from our planning and time working with students. Richards: I’m spending at least 10-12 additional hours outside of work weekly on current caseload students and new referrals on CT-SEDS. It's ridiculous. I have been teaching 30 years and doing special education in Connecticut for 20 of those years, and I have never had a workload like this before. It is my intention to retire from teaching after this school year. “It has become the most negative experience of my total teaching career.”

Zabroski: Even our first professional development was fraught with glitches. Some teachers were unable to log into the system at all, portions of the platform did not function the way our trainers were told they would, and it became painfully clear that the state was pushing out an underdeveloped program that didn’t work as advertised. The day of the rollout, administrators reached out to the CT-SEDS ‘help desk’ and received a response essentially saying the help desk was overwhelmed with requests and would provide an answer when they had time. I clicked a button in CT-SEDS in an effort to print a page of an IEP, and it deleted everything contained in the fields on that page, right in front of my eyes. I frantically searched for an ‘undo’ icon, but there was none to be found. All of this took place after school, and it took over 45 minutes to rectify. For one page. Poland: I know that each time there is a change of software, there is a learning curve during which IEPs take longer than usual to write because you are learning the new system as you go. But to be clear, with CT-SEDS it is so much worse. I have yet to complete an IEP from beginning to end without glitches, strange situations, and lag time between when a PPT is held, issues are solved, and the IEP is finalized. Brown: As I have become more comfortable using the system, it has gotten easier, but there are constantly errors; for example, I created three PPT invitations, and two out of the three would save my name or contact information related to the section about sending procedural safeguards. I have also had issues with student exceptionality being wrong, leaving me unable to finalize IEPs on time because I’m waiting for our data manager to make changes. Hayes: The wording and setup of many of the tiles is not user-friendly. In the accommodation section alone, you have to input every single one individually that is applicable to each student. I have lost material I worked on numerous times. I held a PPT in September that I didn't input correctly, and no one seems to know how to correct it. D’Orazio: I recently hit the wrong choice for one of the multidisciplinary documents, and it deleted everything that had already been completed as well as everything completed at PPT 1, rendering the student who was found eligible to be no longer eligible. How to fix this is still being figured out by the district and state tech support. This meeting was two months ago.

“Some teachers have spent over ten hours on a single IEP.”

Curcio: I’m a speech-language pathologist. Something that used to take 30 minutes is now taking me two or three hours. We are technologically proficient, so it’s not that. If we don’t have a workable system that allows us to do our jobs, ultimately it’s the kids who lose out. D’Orazio: The time to complete an IEP has quadrupled, and the sequence of working through the document is not user-friendly. It is like working through a matrix you are never really sure is finished.

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