Feb-Mar 2022 Advisor

February–March 2022 • Volume 64, Number 4 • Published by the Connecticut Education Association • cea.org CEA NAVIGATING THE ROAD TO RECOVERY




Leading: Our Perspective

As we reflect on the whirlwind of the past few months, it’s easy to focus on the trials and stresses that educators have worked

resources and supports to recognize when our students are in trouble and to lift them out of the current crisis. This campaign—directed squarely at Connecticut lawmakers and their constituents this legislative session—will raise awareness among those outside

Let’s Make It Happen

Kate Dias, CEA President

tirelessly to overcome. From staff shortages, illness, and dual teaching to the over-the- top day-to-day expectations of classroom teaching, teachers have persevered through a tremendous number of obstacles to ensure that schools remain open and that classrooms are supportive and engaging environments where students can learn and thrive. (See story, pages 6-7.) As CEA’s leaders have been visiting schools, having conversations with local union leaders, and advocating for policies that underpin our work statewide, we recognize that, like our students, educators are a diverse group of individuals with various needs, teaching philosophies, and sometimes different ideas about how we should move forward as we continue to navigate teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although our membership reflects a dynamic and diverse group of educators, there is one thing that we can all agree on: Teaching is one of the most rewarding careers a person could choose, and a profession vital to the success of our nation’s children and young adults. The question before us is, how do we restore to the teaching profession all the joy, energy, pride, and autonomy that allow us to do our best work?

our schools who cannot always see the silent, often- invisible epidemic of children’s mental health at a breaking point at the same time funds that would allow for meaningful change are not getting to the places where they’re needed. Watch for What You Don’t See in your social media feeds this month and share the message widely. You will see videos of parents and students who’ve experienced personal hardships or successes, as well as teachers, counselors, psychologists, and social workers operating under caseloads many orders of magnitude higher than the nationally recommended average. In difficulty lies opportunity Just as these random, recent 60-degree days provide hope that spring is around the corner, we have tremendous hope for teachers as well. Connecticut has the best and brightest educators. We are smart, driven, creative, passionate, caring, well-educated, pragmatic, and committed to our students and their families. Together, our voices, our experiences, and our skills can raise the bar for the way educators are cared for, compensated, and cultivated in our state. There has been a lot of talk about teacher self- care. Self-care is important, and we don’t want to invalidate the

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 Eric Ahrens • Web Designer and Developer CEA GOVERNANCE Kate Dias • President Joslyn DeLancey • Vice President Stephanie Wanzer • Secretary David Jedidian • Treasurer Tara Flaherty • NEA Director Katy Gale • NEA Director February–March 2022 Volume 64, Number 4 Published by Connecticut Education Association 1-800-842-4316 • 860-525-5641 cea.org CEA Advisor The CEA Advisor is mailed to all CEA members. Annual subscription price is $5.72 (included in membership dues and available only as part of membership). Institutional subscription price: $25.00. Advertising in the CEA Advisor is screened, but the publishing of any advertisement does not imply CEA endorsement of the product, service, or views expressed. CEA Advisor USPS 0129-220 (ISSN 0007-8050) is published in August, 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.

importance of teachers taking time for their own needs, just as they care for their students. In fact, CEA has stepped in to provide avenues for teachers to do just that. (See page 5.) We know, however, that to truly improve education, we must students in the very schools where they teach and learn. For that to happen, we need to stick together, support each other, listen to one prioritize it—and that means prioritizing our educators and

Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the teacher shortage that threatens our public schools was well-documented before the pandemic. It is only intensifying. (See pages 4-5.) For the past two decades we’ve watched as legislators, boards of education, corporate interests, and special interest groups have shifted our work into areas we believe to be counterintuitive to building successful school communities. Standardized testing, boxed curriculums, flawed teacher evaluation plans, inexperienced administrators, professional development mandates misaligned with students’ and teachers’ needs, and a chronic underfunding of our neediest districts have hindered our ability to give our best to students and to truly thrive as educators. The pandemic added a slew of new stresses and exposed the cracks in our system. As a result, teacher burnout is at record levels, and many of our finest educators are leaving the profession—retiring early or pursuing different paths. At the same time, we are seeing unprecedented levels of stress and trauma among our students, many of whom occupy poorly ventilated, underresourced classrooms. (See page 5.) What is often less evident is what our policymakers are doing to help. And that’s the impetus behind a large-scale CEA social media campaign—What You Don’t See—that aims to shine a light on the need for more teachers, school counselors, school social workers, school psychologists, and other All across the state, teachers are standing together for safe, healthy, well- resourced schools. See the full story on pages 6-7.

another, and rally together to make our needs heard. CEA has a very aggressive legislative agenda. It touches on everything we need to support education, from improving indoor air quality to creative ways of better compensating educators. We believe that passing many of our legislative priorities will be the start to building successful school communities and bringing schools to a place where teachers have autonomy, resources, training, and the care they need to do right by students. We are asking for your help and support in pushing this agenda, shouting it from the rooftops, with your legislators. We will need your help in testifying before committees, telling your stories, and writing letters requesting support for education in order to successfully pass bills that support teachers and schools. (See pages 8-9.) Together, we really can make a difference and strengthen support for our profession. We could not be prouder to represent CEA. Our members are amazing. You deserve the best of the best, from higher compensation and greater autonomy to advanced resources and safe, supportive school buildings. Together, we can push our state to make these things happen for teachers and schools. Thank you all for the care and support you give to your school communities, our organization, and your students. We are fighting for you, and we will continue that fight in the upcoming months and long into the future.

Production date: 2-24-2022



News Briefs

The classroom environment has changed a lot in the last two years, and for many educators new to the profession, change has been a constant from day one. Whether this is your first year in the classroom or your sixth, CEA’s Early Career Educator Conference will help you grow as a professional, connect with colleagues from around the state, and learn from veteran teachers who have been there, done that, and navigated the new normal alongside you. Designed specifically for early career educators but open to all CEA CEA’s Early Career Educator Conference Saturday, March 26 | Southbury, CT | Breakfast & lunch included


LEADING CEA leaders discuss the ongoing

challenges facing teachers and unveil an aggressive legislative plan to address them. Pandemic-related stress, along with pre- pandemic challenges left unaddressed, are leading to teacher burnout, mental health issues for students, and renewed calls for adequate school funding and support. Read about CEA’s social media campaign, What You Don’t See, and other efforts to shine a light on the issues. A statewide teacher ‘blackout’ calling for clear COVID protocols and safe, in-person learning made national headlines and gained widespread attention on both news and social media. See highlights, including photos from neighboring districts or your own, and read how the statewide action—and a subsequent school visit from the governor, along with CEA leaders—prompted change. As the state lifts its mask mandate for schools, new challenges arise for educators. CEA presents its legislative priorities to support them—by improving indoor air quality, elevating teacher voice, addressing staff shortages, providing incentives for talented professionals to enter and grow in the field, and ensuring they retire with dignity. Read how you can be a part of the solution. IMPROVING Though we’re still in winter’s grip, every teacher knows that spring temperatures will bring unbearable heat to many classrooms. Between rising mercury and COVID waves, the need for quality HVAC systems in schools has never been greater. Read what CEA is doing about it and how teacher-supplied data has been instrumental. SUPPORTING COVID has taken a tremendous toll on teachers. Relief has come in various forms, including financial assistance and teacher evaluation flexibilities. See who will represent you at the NEA Representative Assembly. Does your local association have fewer than 76 members? Nominate NEA County Cluster Delegates by March 31. Are you making the most of your CEA membership? You could be saving hundreds—even thousands—of dollars a year. Stay connected with CEA during the busy legislative session and get teachers’ priorities over the finish line. Also, see how teachers around the state brightened the holidays for students in need—and how you can help too.


Saturday, March 26 8:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Heritage Hotel & Conference Center, 522 Heritage Road, Southbury, CT members and CEA Aspiring Educators, this professional learning day will help you become more confident in your skills as a teacher and as an advocate for your students. Plan to attend this free, information-packed conference. Continental breakfast and lunch will be provided.


Professional development sessions include • Using the QFT to enhance student engagement • How to reach and teach your EL students • Decreasing anxiety in the classroom • Teaching with technology • Creating an anti-racist classroom • Escape room activities for the classroom

• Strategies for interacting with adults in the classroom • Pension issues for early career teachers • Knowing your legal rights and responsibilities as a teacher • Teacher evaluation

Register at cea.org/register-for-ceas-early-career-educator-conference/


Changes Announced for Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Teachers who have federal student loan debt have been frustrated by the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program’s complicated requirements and low approval rate. That changed on October 6, when the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced it will temporarily suspend many of the rules that made PSLF so difficult to pursue. In short, nonprofit employees—including educators—who were previously ineligible for loan forgiveness because they held the wrong type of loans (particularly Perkins and Federal Family Education Loan Program loans) or were making payments through an ineligible repayment plan can now apply for loan forgiveness. This opportunity is anticipated to last only until October 31, 2022. A few other key takeaways: • The DOE’s announcement didn’t change eligibility requirements for federal Parent PLUS loan forgiveness. They can still be forgiven, but only under the current rules. • Retirees or borrowers who no longer work for an eligible


employer but who already made 120 payments on a Direct loan while working for a qualified nonprofit can qualify for PSLF. • If it turns out you’ve made more than 120 payments on a Direct loan after recalculating the number that now qualify, you can receive a refund for those extra payments. • If you’re holding Perkins or FFEL loans, you must consolidate them into the Direct loan program by October 31, 2022, so that their balances can be forgiven. It won’t be possible after that date. • Even if you won’t have made 120 payments by October 31, 2022, the waiver will allow you to include previously ineligible payments if you follow a few simple steps. • To find out more about the DOE’s waiver opportunity and how it • might lead to forgiveness of your federal loan balances, join CEA Member Benefits partner Cambridge Credit Counseling for a free informational webinar. Dates will be announced at cea.org/daily . Subscribe for updates.



Deadline is October 31, 2022


To learn more about reducing or eliminating student loan payments or credit card debt, visit cea.org/teacher-discounts/cambridge-credit/


Your Email, Member ID Unlock Benefits of CEA Membership

Your 2021-2022 CEA membership card and unique membership number (also found within the mailing address of your CEA Advisor) provide members-only access to crucial information at cea.org . Log in with your unique membership ID and take full advantage of events, training, services, information, resources, and discounts available only to members, including • Free professional development • Free retirement workshops • Free, comprehensive guides for teacher evaluation • Discounts on a wide variety of products and services you use every day • Teachers’ contracts for all Connecticut districts

Membership also provides no-cost assistance from CEA’s legal experts when you need it, as well as training in your legal rights and responsibilities when it comes to DCF investigations, social media, and more. CEA regularly polls members and sends Action Alerts on key legislative issues. In order to reach you, CEA must have your current personal email address. (Emails from CEA and other organizations are often blocked by school email systems.) To ensure you never miss a key update or survey, visit mynea360.org . There, you can check to be sure your email address is correct and current. STAY IN THE KNOW

YOU are the reason someone came to school today. Remember that.


facebook.com/ CTEdAssoc

youtube.com/ ceavideo

cea.org/daily twitter.com/ ceanews

instagram.com/ cea_teachers

flickr.com/ photos/ceapics



The headlines bear out what every educator, from a first-year teacher to a 40-year veteran, knows. Teaching is not only among the most rewarding professions but also— even in the best circumstances—one of the most stressful. ARE NOT ALRIGHT THE KIDS AND TEACHERS




In a recent CEA podcast episode, 2019 Connecticut Teacher of the Year Sheena Graham explains how pandemic stress pushed her to retire early. Listen at cea.org/podcast .

2019 Connecticut Teacher of the Year Sheena Graham can attest to that. Last year marked the first time the Bridgeport music teacher decided not to teach over the summer, something she’d done her whole career. Still broken and exhausted from pandemic

teaching, she left the profession earlier this year, months before the school year came to a close—and years before she’d planned to retire. “Pandemic stress was the final straw,” she says. “It magnified all the ‘mini pandemics’ that were brewing beneath the surface, and it made them impossible to ignore. It was more than a little demoralizing to have people see the fight by educators to keep schools safe as something separate from keeping students safe. Educators touch every other profession out there, but somehow we continue to be undervalued.” (Hear her interview on Two T’s in a Pod wherever you get your podcasts.) Surveys by CEA and the National Education Association reveal that Graham is not alone. At the start of the school year, 38 % of Connecticut teachers surveyed said the pandemic has made it more likely that they will

leave the profession or retire early. By the middle of the school year, an NEA survey found an alarming 55 % of educators nationwide indicating they’re ready to leave the profession earlier than planned. This is true regardless of age or years teaching, and the number is even higher among Black (62 %) and Hispanic/Latino (59 %) educators, who are already underrepresented in the teaching profession. More than three in four educators report frequent job-related stress, and 27 % report symptoms of depression, compared to 10 % of adults in other professions. Burnout “Throughout this pandemic, America’s educators have shown us how committed they are to helping their students thrive,” says NEA President BeckyPringle. “But as our survey showed, after persevering through the hardest school years in memory, America’s educators are

Danbury student Will Sweeney and school counselor Curtis Darragh are helping CEA get the message out that schools need more counselors, social workers, and psychologists.

BY THE NUMBERS NEA’s survey in January revealed, among other things:

74 % of educators have had to fill in for colleagues or take on other duties due to staff shortages

80 % of members report that unfilled job openings have led to more work obligations for the educators who remain

90 % of members say feeling burned out is a serious problem (67% characterize it as very serious)

Indoor air quality remains a key priority , with 95% of members supporting improved ventilation in schools and only 28% indicating that their school’s ventilation system is adequate

Not all schools are maintained equally

91 % say that pandemic-related stress is a serious problem for educators

View the full survey.

In our nation’s schools serving majority Black, brown, and economically disadvantaged students, only 21% of educators believed their schools had adequate ventilation



exhausted and increasingly burned out. School staffing shortages are not new, but what we are seeing now is an unprecedented staffing crisis across every job category. This crisis is preventing educators from giving their students the one-on-one attention they need. It is forcing them to give up their class planning and lunch time to fill in for colleagues who are out due to COVID. And it is preventing students from getting the mental health supports needed.” (See story at right.) While educator shortages predate the pandemic, particularly for substitute teachers and in hard-to- staff subjects such as math, science, special education, and bilingual education, these shortages have grown in the past two years and expanded to encompass positions such as bus drivers, school nurses, and food service workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 567,000 fewer educators in America’s public schools today than there were before the pandemic. What is the answer? Teachers support several proposals to address burnout, including adding more mental health supports for students (especially school counselors, social workers, and psychologists), hiring more teachers and support staff, reducing paperwork, and increasing pay. They also cite improved ventilation systems as the safety measure they most want to see in schools (see story, page 10). “We know massive staff shortages are leaving educators increasingly burned out, and myriad other factors are contributing to teachers’ stress,” says CEA President Kate Dias. “We’re tackling these at the bargaining table, at board of education meetings, through legislative and public awareness campaigns, and by every other means at our disposal.” An Act Building Successful School Communities is a detailed legislative proposal CEA is bringing before lawmakers this session. Among other things, it seeks to establish maximum ratios of students to social workers (250:1), school counselors (250:1), and school psychologists (500:1), far lower than Connecticut’s actual caseloads (see story, top right), as well as caps on special education nationally recognized organizations with expertise in special educator and paraprofessional educator effectiveness. It will also require local and regional boards of education include in their annual reporting to the State Department of Education a needs assessment identifying resources necessary to address the level of student trauma impacting children and staff in their schools. “CEA is pushing legislators, administrators, government officials, and others to ensure better teaching and learning conditions, appropriate mental health supports, and the funding to recruit and retain great educators and hire much-needed support staff,” says Dias. “These are not nice-to-haves; they’re must-haves.” Stay on top of key education bills as they move through the legislature. Watch your inbox for Action Alerts from CEA. teacher and paraprofessional caseloads, as recommended by

CEA social media campaign urges greater mental health supports in schools, improved air quality Just as teachers are feeling the stress of the pandemic, students are coping with everything from academic and social pressures to the health and economic impacts of the pandemic on their families. In any given year, one in five children in the U.S. will exhibit signs of a mental health disorder; since the pandemic, anxiety, depression, and loneliness among children have only increased. Dangerously high ratios of students to school counselors, psychologists, and social workers were well-known to educators before the pandemic. Today, with children’s mental health at even greater risk, the need for well-resourced schools is more urgent. “We’ve launched a social media campaign—What You Don’t See—calling attention to this silent epidemic and calling on legislators to help address it,” says CEA Communications Director Nancy Andrews. “Our campaign features powerful video interviews with parents, students, school counselors, and others telling their personal stories and describing how school professionals are often a lifeline for struggling students.” 2021 Connecticut School Counselor of the Year Curtis Darragh, a middle school counselor in Danbury, says, “It’s a constant carousel of students presenting with mental health challenges. We are seeing children with cutting behaviors. We are doing risk assessments for suicide. We are also seeing students who just need to check in and talk to someone. At any given time, however, I may have five or ten students on my waitlist, and my biggest fear is, ‘Who did I miss?’” Crisis proportions At a rally last year calling for better student-to-counselor ratios and other school resources, Danbury student Will Sweeney publicly thanked Darragh for having helped him through a difficult period when he was younger. Although his parents are both educators (his mother is a teacher and his father a school counselor), Sweeney explained that students need trusted adults outside their families and within their schools to talk to. He expressed concerns that with escalating ratios (Darragh now has a caseload of 375 students), students like him could easily fall through the cracks. “I am always worried about that,” Darragh says. “I may be dealing with a number of students experiencing mental health emergencies and wondering about the others who came knocking on my door. Will they be OK?” WHAT YOU DON’T SEE Recognizing all the ways teachers care for their students, CEA works to ensure members have opportunities to care for themselves as well. “We’re enlisting Member Benefits partners to provide freehealth and wellness supports that can lift teachers up in these stressful times,” says CEA President Kate Dias. “We’re committed to finding every opportunity for our members to feel centered, cared for, and valued.” In December and January, CEAMember Benefits partners Peaceful Chaos Yoga (Cromwell) and Sacred Rivers Yoga (East Hartford) opened the doors of their virtual studios to all CEA members and their families. Over Zoom, they offered Stress-Free Sundays and Mindful Mondays yoga sessions, which CEA provided free for its members.

Indeed, a study released in February by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 39,000 K-12 students in Connecticut suffer from major depression—24,000 without treatment. Suzanne Talbot is a school psychologist at Groton Middle School, which has an approximate student population of 1,000. “We’re lucky that in our building, we have three full-time school psychologists, two full-time social workers, six full-time school counselors, and two full-time school-based health center clinicians. These ratios allow us to be proactive with students’ mental health in many ways, and that’s important, because the need is greater now than it ever has been.”

Ratios of students to school social workers


Connecticut average

250:1 Recommended

Unfortunately, that is not the case in most Connecticut schools, where the average ratios of students to school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists far exceed the recommended maximums. A report released in late February by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found Connecticut’s average ratios are 457:1 (students to school counselors), 548:1 (school psychologists), and 580:1 (school social workers.)

Watch for What You Don’t See on CEA’s social media platforms and at cea.org/whatyoudontsee


Exercises in mindfulness continued in February, with Copper Beech Institute’s 14Days of Love, offering freeonline meditation exercises every day leading up to Valentine’s Day. The focus on wellness continues this month, with Sweaty Saturdays—virtual fitness classes every Saturday in March with Joyful Fitness, at no cost to you. (Watch your inbox for details and registration info, or go to cea.org .) In addition to their free offerings, all CEAMember Benefits partners provide discounts to members throughout the year on products and services you need and deserve. Check out all the benefits available to you at cea.org/discounts . There’s an App for That Offered in partnership with

Sanvello Health, the NEAMental Health Program is designed to give NEAmembers on-demand, confidential access to help manage stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional health challenges so you can feel happier over time. As part of your NEA membership, you can get access to Sanvello’s premium subscription for 30 days—and a 25 % discount after that. You also can receive a 10 % discount on one-on-one coaching support and anonymous group video sessions. Find out more about this benefit available through NEA Member Benefits at neamb.com .

Free Zoom classes, 8:30 – 9:15 a.m. March 5 March 12 March 19 March 26 Register at cea.org



TEACHERS SPEAK OUT,‘BLACK OUT’ FOR SAFE SCHOOLS AS SCHOOLS PREPARED TO REOPEN AFTER THE WINTER BEGAN TO SURGE, AND THE N95 MASKS AND HOME TEST KITS PROMISED TO SCHOOL EMPLOYEES WERE NOWHERE Omicron swept through schools, causing major staff shortages. Students crowded into cafeterias and poorly ventilated spaces where teachers did their best to keep them safe and engaged. Buildings shut down for lack of educators, substitutes, bus drivers, and support staff. HOLIDAY BREAK, COVID CASES—PREDICTABLY—

newspapers and on CBS, ABC, and Fox. (See all the coverage at cea.org/cea-in-the-media .) Importantly, it also resulted in masks and test kits being delivered to every public school and distributed to every teacher and school staff member in the state. “I am really proud of our educators for standing up together and getting the job done,” said CEA President Kate Dias, who joined Windsor teachers and staff holding signs at their blackout. “They have shown up every single day to make sure all their kids are taken care of—despite the challenges they’ve faced—and they continue to show up for each other as well.” “As teachers, we are making thousands of decisions a day to keep our students safe and do what’s best for them,” said Connecticut 2021 Teacher of the Year Rochelle Brown, a Poquonock kindergarten teacher who participated

“All of these disruptions could have been avoided with better state support, including granting districts the option to switch temporarily to remote instruction until the surge passed,” said CEA President Kate Dias. “So many missteps reinforced deep concerns teachers and other school employees shared in a survey at the start of the year, and they prompted a statewide action to bring attention to the need for safe schools.” #Blackout4SafeSchools Results of the survey, conducted January 7-10, were made public on January 11. The following

day, thousands of educators and school staff flooded social media and joined in a statewide “blackout,” wearing black and walking into their school buildings together. “We’re two years into the pandemic, and we still don’t have what we need,” said Poquonock Elementary School teacher MistyHolke, a Windsor teacher who participated in the blackout. With her colleagues from every corner of the state, she hoped to draw attention to the need for better safety protocols in schools. Their strategy worked. The blackout, organized by CEA and other members of the Coalition of Board of Education Employee Unions (representing teachers, paraeducators, custodians, nurses, cafeteria workers, bus drivers/monitors, and support staff), made national news. Teachers carried signs that read “Keep COVID Out and Students In.” In addition to coverage by Newsweek , the Associated Press, and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt , the blackout made headlines in local

in Windsor’s walk-in. “We’re thinking about them and their families, and our own families. We want to remain safe and keep our students in school, and we need the proper equipment to do that.” Blackouts and walk-ins took place in cities and towns throughout the state, including Ledyard, Stonington, Norwich, and Wallingford—where teachers had received N95 masks and testing kits but participated as a show of support for their colleagues and students in other districts. “As exhausted as they may be, teachers continue to pound the pavement and advocate for safe public schools,” said CEA Vice President Joslyn DeLancey, who joined Wallingford educators at their blackout. “We applaud them. We support them. And we demand that our state leaders and administrators do the same.”



A statewide blackout gained local and national media attention, and social media exploded with images of teachers from Hamden, Mansfield, Simsbury, Southington, Stonington, Stratford, Tolland, Union, Wallingford, West Hartford, Windsor, and dozens of other cities and towns. Joining teachers and school staff in the blackout calling for better safety measures were administrators in many districts, frustrated by the lack of masks and COVID tests promised to schools. EDUCATORS’ SURVEY SHOWS GAPS IN SCHOOL HEALTH AND SAFETY

In a January survey of teachers, paraprofessionals, school bus drivers and monitors, custodians, nurses, and support staff in all districts across the state, an overwhelming lack of protocols and safety measures were reported in Connecticut’s public schools. More than 5,500 school employees participated in the survey. “It was a rough start of the year for our education communities,” said CEA President Kate Dias. “We thought we were heading back with N95 masks and availability of test kits, but as our survey showed, many educators and staff members were still waiting for supplies more than a week into the year. The survey findings speak volumes about what our educators and their students are facing and howmuch that contributes to the stress, burnout, and mental health crises

overwhelming all sides.” (See story, pages 4-5.) CEA urged implementation of stringent safety standards in schools, including more aggressive testing protocols and assessment of symptoms, access to free testing at all schools, continued social distancing, improved ventilation, and a prohibition on large group gatherings, combined classes, and dual teaching. “Ultimately, we are looking for statewide, science-based protocols, guidance, and support reflecting the needs of our students and teachers and the deep desire to keep schools open,” said Dias. While the statewide mask mandate in schools was lifted on February 28, 62 % of CEA members surveyed February 4-8 indicated that they will continue to mask up. (See story, page 8.)


More than half of educators surveyed said their administrators don’t understand the challenges they are facing.

62 % reported not having the supplies and protocols in place to safely perform their jobs.

25 % of educators and staff said their district was successfully balancing instructional needs and the social/emotional needs of students.

70 % of educators said their district was not successfully balancing their professional expectations with their social/emotional needs. While 45 % of respondents said their building administration did a good job of communicating about N95 masks, test availability, and safety protocols for the return to school, nearly as many (41%) said administrators did not do a good job communicating that information.

37 % of respondents said they work directly with students who are unable or unwilling to wear a mask.

70 % of educators lacked access to N95 masks and home testing kits when they returned to school.




CEA’s Legislative Commission and Board of Directors develop a legislative agenda every year based on members’ concerns and priorities. In even years, including 2022, the Connecticut General Assembly’s work is conducted during a “short session”—only three months long—which limits the number of bills that can be raised and debated. CEA is working within those restrictions to advance legislation reflecting members’ priorities. CEA’s biggest issues this session are protecting the health and safety of students and teachers, improving indoor air quality in public schools, and recruiting and retaining educators. Key priorities include: • Supporting teachers with acceptable counselor, social worker, and other certified staff ratios • Elevating teacher voices in decision-making processes • Prohibiting dual instruction • Raising the kindergarten start age • Employing administrators with an appropriate level of classroom experience • Defining acceptable conditions for indoor air quality, creating an IAQ monitoring program, extending the state school construction bond program to include HVAC systems, and developing IAQ complaint procedures in schools • Recruiting teachers with loan forgiveness, stipends, an updated and flexible certification process, and expanded opportunities for second-career educators

• Retaining educators with the help of tax credits and supplemental stipends, as well as ensuring duty-free lunch periods and providing undirected prep time of no less than 45 minutes Teachers Share with Legislators What’s Really Going On in Schools Legislators don’t know what goes on in classrooms every day unless they hear from teachers. That’s why CEA members around the state have been meeting with legislators this winter to share their stories and urge action. During a Zoom meeting in February with shoreline educators, Senator Norm Needleman and Representatives Devin Carney and Christine Palm heard from teachers about the need for more mental health resources in schools, better indoor air quality, support for recruiting and retaining educators, and improvements to the state teacher evaluation guidelines. “Schools really need more funding to care for the mental health of children,” one teacher shared. She said the preschool teacher at her elementary school is at a loss for what to do with three-year-olds who hit and kick her. “She has one para in the room with her and 17 three-year-olds. Schools need board-certified behavior analyst support, they need social workers, they need mental health resources.” She added, “Schools are really floundering in the mental health department. Kids are struggling. They’ve gone throughtwo years now of a world unlike any other. The supports we need are fewer and fewer, even as they’re needed more and more.” Another teacher told legislators that earlier in her career she was put in a headlock and her neck was twisted while teaching summer school. Her recovery

STATE MASK MANDATE ENDS; MASKING DECISIONS IN LOCAL HANDS After a year-and-a-half of mandating masks in schools, Connecticut ended its statewide

ready for the mask mandate to end, and 5 % unsure. Sixty-two percent of educators indicated that they would continue to mask up when masking became optional, and 38 % said they would not. CEA President Kate Dias shared the survey results with legislators during a February public hearing. A number of local teachers’ associations conducted surveys of their own members to inform their discussions with superintendents and board of education members in making local decisions about mandating masking in schools. Dias stressed that schools should make sure teachers’ expectations are communicated clearly to parents and the school community. “We cannot be expected to police masking if it is optional,” she said. “Parents cannot call teachers and expect them to enforce any masking requirements. This includes who is supposed to wear masks and whom students sit or play with.” She also emphasized that districts must provide high-quality (medically fitted) N95 masks for all teachers who want them, particularly those who are medically fragile, have immunocompromised family members, or work in windowless classrooms or rooms with windows that don’t open. Dias said that local associations are prepared to assist teachers with medical documentation of conditions that put them at an increased risk of COVID by advocating for medically fitted N95 masks, larger or better-ventilated rooms, or other ADA accommodations. “Two years in, we are at a point in this pandemic where some people are ready to revert to pre-pandemic ways of life while those who are immunocompromised are worried that they are being forgotten,” said Dias. “We must show each other respect and empathy and ensure that our students and staff who are at greater risk from COVID remain safe in our schools.”

requirement February 28, and most Connecticut school districts have now elected to be mask-optional. Masking must continue on school buses, as transportation is regulated by the federal government. The Connecticut Commissioner of Education maintains the ability to reinstate a statewide mandate should a new severe COVID variant become widespread before the end of this school year. While some advocated removing the statewide mask mandate in schools on February 15, when the governor’s executive order was set to expire, the legislature voted to continue the mandate through the end of February, allowing masking to become a local decision after that point. Senator Saud Anwar, a pulmonologist at Manchester Memorial Hospital, acknowledged, “I want children to be able to go to school and not have to wear their masks and worry about things,” however, he said that in mid-February cases were still too high in the state to make unmasking in schools a wise decision. Based on mid-February infection rates and hospitalizations he anticipated case levels would be low enough by February 28 to allow optional unmasking in schools that choose to allow it. “When we get to that point, we have to recognize, with humility, that this virus has changed multiple times in the last two years, and there’s always the risk that it could change into a new variant, so we need to remain vigilant while we are getting our lives back and recognize that we need to be prepared that things can change,” he said. In an early February CEA poll of its members, teachers had mixed feelings about masking, with 55 % favoring a mask requirement, 40 %




































62 Yes

38 No

55 % Disagree 40 Agree %

5 % Unsure



Nearly 10,000 members responded to a CEA survey conducted February 4-8, 2022.



“I’ve been teaching for 23 years at my school, and in the past, whenever we’ve brought up concerns about excessive heat, the response has been, ‘It’s only a few days,’” a middle school teacher said. “It’s not just a few days. Kids get headaches. They have to go to the nurse. Teachers get migraines, too. Kids can’t learn, and teachers can’t teach. It’s inhumane.” In response to a question from Rep. Palm, teachers confirmed that the challenge of extreme heat and humidity in schools is getting worse. Schools from

the 1960s and 70s were not built with the temperatures of 2022 in mind, and they do not have air conditioning. “Teachers are overwhelmed,” one educator shared. “Between hot buildings, more and more expectations being heaped on teachers, supporting the significant social and emotional needs of children, and being caught in the middle of political debates, we’re exhausted. On top of that we have to comply with teacher evaluation systems that don’t meaningfully impact our teaching or student learning yet require hours and hours of jumping through hoops and data entry time.” “As a society we need to rejigger our

CEA-Marlborough President and kindergarten teacher Amy Farrior participates in an evening Zoom meeting with legislators. required six months of physical therapy. “It was scary,” the teacher said. “I still have PTSD and physical problems resulting from the attack. The safety of teachers should be foremost.” A high school teacher said her district has had many teachers leave the profession earlier than they had planned. “We thought teaching last year, half in and half out, was the hardest year of teaching we could experience, but the behaviors this year from students—they’re out of control.”

Outdated HVAC systems have led to chronic mold issues in some schools—a problem that CEA’s legislative agenda seeks to address.

priorities,” Senator Needleman said. “You guys are really heroes. The situation on the ground, sadly, is what it is. We need to do better, and I’m committed to doing better to the extent we can get there.” Rep. Carney said he would like to see progress on the issues teachers shared. “The one that’s particularly alarming to me is students attacking teachers. We need to address that.” A middle school teacher expressed frustration after attending board of education meetings where the primary focus of many meetings has been masks. “These things teachers are concerned about, the lack of supports for students, the lack of AC, are not a priority for our elected town officials,” he said. “I have 25 kids, several with IEPs and several who are English learners. I don’t have a para in my room at any point, so I can only give each of those students a couple of minutes of individual attention, at best. This is so hard. I’ve been teaching for 10 years—why is the school board talking about completely different matters?” Rep. Palm thanked teachers for communicating what is going on in schools. “I appreciate you elucidating all these things that are really on your minds.”

On top of responding to the stresses and upheavals in students’ lives and how those present in the classroom, the teacher said she and her colleagues are being asked to teach additional classes and take on more responsibilities because of a teacher shortage. After a math teacher retired at the beginning of the year, other math teachers in her building were asked to teach an extra class to make up for that missing position, and now language teachers are being asked to teach an extra class after a Spanish teacher left.

Teachers are overwhelmed. Between hot buildings, more and more expectations being heaped on teachers, supporting the significant social and emotional needs of children, and being caught in the middle of political debates, we’re exhausted.”

“I have a very dedicated colleague telling me every day, ‘Maybe now is the time to leave,’ and she wasn’t thinking that two years ago. We need to work to retain teachers. I don’t even know what’s going to happen next year at our school. I’m very concerned.” When teaching is already stressful, extreme heat makes everything that much worse. An elementary teacher told legislators that the heat in her classroom is extremely oppressive from August through October and in May and June. “We don’t have air conditioning, and these poor little eight-year-olds are coming in from recess dripping. They’re nauseated and have headaches— these poor kids are so uncomfortable.”

See CEA’s full legislative agenda at cea.org/teacher-priorities



order to do that we must have teachers in classrooms. They’re the single greatest asset to make change in our school districts.” Teacher retirement Also testifying before the Appropriations Committeewas CEA-Retired President WilliamMurray, who told legislators, “We are pleased to see that Governor Lamont has proposed to fully fund the annual teachers’ retirement system contribution, increase funding toward the unfunded liability using surplus funds, and fully fund the retiree health insurance fund.” Murray, who also serves as vice chair of the Teachers’ Retirement Board, added that an increase to the health insurance subsidy for retired teachers is long overdue, as the subsidy amounts were set 26 years ago and have not been raised since, even as health insurance costs have more than doubled. “On behalf of our organization and all retired teachers who fall into this category, I urge committeemembers to consider increasing the subsidies.”

To ensure our students receive the education they deserve, we must elect pro-public education candidates who will stand up for our students and our profession. The NEA Fund for Children and Public Education is fueled by educators like you, coming together to advocate for real leaders at the federal and state level, regardless of political party. Elected officials decide policies on everything from the amount of funding our schools receive to teacher pensions and healthcare. Donations to the NEA Fund are entirely voluntary and support federal and state candidates, political parties, and political committees. Donate today at educationvotes.nea.org/donate .

During the legislative session the dates for public hearings and votes are announced only days in advance. Watch for CEA Action Alerts sent to your email inbox letting you know when it’s time to mobilize and contact your legislators about issues fundamental to teaching and learning. Public hearings are underway at the legislature and will continue through late March. Hearings are taking place via Zoom again this session, making it easier for educators who’d like to testify to do so. Some of the first public hearings have been on the governor’s budget proposal, and CEA President Kate Dias testified before legislators on the Appropriations Committeeon several aspects of the budget pertaining to students, teachers, and schools. “The governor’s budget is a good first step in terms of improving conditions for our teaching as well as students’ learning, because those things are really one and the same,” Dias told legislators. “We do think there is more that can be done to revitalize our schools. Really looking at the teacher shortage, the attrition, much like everywhere across the country we’re looking at nearly 50 %

of our staff considering leaving the profession. That is a significant issue we need to act on now.” Dias said the state needs to invest in schools, particularly when it comes to students’ mental health. “The mental health crisis among students is continuing to grow, and we need to meet that need, but that’s going to take money, and that’s going to take people,” she said. “We need to bring down those class sizes, those ratios of students to social workers, counselors, and psychologists. There’s a lot of opportunity for us to support education and provide our students with what they need, but in


There’s a lot to keep up on in 2022 with constant changes to pandemic protocols and schools in the news daily. That’s why we’ve launched the CEAdaily. The Daily will give you all the latest news from CEA, including stories about what your legislators are up to at the State Capitol during the 2022 legislative session. Subscribe today at cea.org/daily .

Scan to read CEA’s full legislative agenda.

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