CEA’S PUSH FOR INDOOR AIR QUALITY IN SCHOOLS INTENSIFIES Back-to-school survey finds improvements not being implemented in most schools

“CEA has consistently advocated for all the state’s public schools to have high-quality cooling, heating, and air filtration systems to enhance the health and academic performance of students in our schools and the safety of all the adults who work there,” CEA Executive Director Donald Williams told reporters at a press conference outside Manchester High School earlier this school year, announcing results of CEA’s Back-to-School Survey. In a key finding, virtually all Connecticut teachers surveyed (97 percent) identified school air quality as a top safety priority and concern, but barely over a quarter (27 percent) said that air quality issues were actually being addressed at their schools. Improving indoor air quality in schools has been a major priority for CEA, prompting efforts to establish statutory minimum and maximum temperatures and humidity levels in schools, a pilot program to track and publicize excessive classroom temperatures, demands for building remediation and protection for those harmed by poor indoor air quality, and more. CEA’s campaign to improve air quality in schools got a big boost recently as other unions and stakeholder groups joined the state’s largest teachers’ union for a news conference calling on the state to be a funding partner in improving school HVAC systems. “This was important before the pandemic,” said Williams, “and CEA has promoted legislation at the State Capitol to fix the air quality and ventilation problems in every school, because we know that the incidence of childhood asthma has been on the rise for years. We see it especially in underserved districts, in high-poverty districts. There is a real equity issue as to the districts that can afford to put air conditioning in all of their schools and those that cannot.” “If we fail to act, we fail not just the educators in our buildings, but also the students,” said CEA President Kate Dias. “We’re asking that politicians stand up and take care of our students, teachers, and communities.” Setting standards A math teacher at Manchester High School, Dias recalls temperatures in her

second-floor math classroom rising to 95°F in the warmer months, with 70 percent humidity. “It’s not only incredibly uncomfortable but also not conducive to learning.” During the pandemic, she adds, poor air circulation meant teachers were forced to leave windows open on freezing winter days. “It’s unreasonable. Nobody would want to work under those conditions.” “Your teachers’ working conditions are your students’ learning conditions,” CEA Vice President Joslyn DeLancey explained. “We need to look at the infrastructure of our buildings and the indoor air quality. We need to look at the data and make sure that our teachers are being supported. As a state, we have to take the time to care for our teachers and our schools, because only when we have well-supported teachers will we be able to give the best to our kids.” Williams pointed out that while regulations governing minimum and maximum temperatures and humidity levels exist for animals in pet stores (no colder than 65°F and no warmer than 78°F), those same protections are not in place for students and teachers in school buildings. Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents—a coalition member that has joined CEA’s campaign to improve schools’ indoor air quality—spent most of her career in Bridgeport, including three years as interim superintendent. She said she frequently had to send kids home after a half-day in school because of extreme heat in school buildings. “The heat in the buildings was so high that I deemed it to be unsafe for our children. And honestly, it was a difficult thing to make that decision midway through the day. Our children could ill afford to lose that learning time in school, but that was real life. Calling parents and saying, ‘Come pick up your children,’ was a thing that happened often in the month of June, and it’s unacceptable.” More recently, sweltering classrooms have forced the closure of several buildings already this school year, cutting into precious learning time just as schools attempt to

L-R: CEA Executive Director Donald Williams, President Kate Dias, and Vice President Joslyn DeLancey hold a press conference outside Manchester High School to share findings from CEA’s Back-to-School Survey.


they stop working. “Here in Manchester,” said Dias, “the community at large voted to contribute and really make a solid commitment to school facilities. We’re looking for that to be a theme across the state, because we see a disconnect between what is a priority—a real, considerable working condition—and whether or not people feel it’s being responded to. That really spoke to us in CEA’s survey. Our teachers are tracking far ahead of the community at large in terms of vaccination rates, and they are excited to be back to school— but also apprehensive.” Wealthier towns are more likely to be able to make investments and find ways to update their schools’ ventilations systems, she added, which quickly creates an equity issue. “You have the haves and have nots lining up across the state. Extreme heat and poor air quality are creating additional barriers to learning that disproportionately affect populations that don’t need more barriers.” “The stars are aligned for legislators and the governor to make a commitment right now,” said Williams, urging districts to make use of federal funding and the state to broaden its criteria for when schools can use bond funding. “Few things are as important as the quality of air in our schools.”

rebound from pandemic closures. Among the many towns where schools had to close due to high heat were Canterbury, East Hartford, Killingly, Monroe, New Milford, Scotland, Thompson, Watertown, Winchester, Windham, Winsted, and Wolcott. In addition, mold issues have been identified in nearly a dozen school districts—the latest among them, Cheshire and Derby. Time to invest For years, a lack of funding has been the excuse not to upgrade HVAC systems or install air conditioning in schools. “Connecticut has received $1.1 billion in federal aid to assist with enhancement and capital improvement in education,” said Williams. “That’s spot-on in terms of upgrading air quality systems and providing air conditioning where it doesn’t exist.” In addition to federal aid, he added, towns and cities also need assistance from the state. The state makes annual bond funding available to towns for school construction and repairs but has so far not permitted HVAC updates to be considered for bond funding. Proponents of HVAC updates have pointed out that outdated air quality systems should be treated the same way as roofs and windows that need replacing. The state has determined that school roofs and windows have an “end of life” that requires replacement, but HVAC systems are often updated only once


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