Summer 2020 • Volume 62, Number 8 • Published by the Connecticut Education Association • cea.org CEA
TEACHERS DRIVE THE MESSAGE HOME School reopening requires
• safety • equity • funding
2 CEA ADVISOR SUMMER 2020
Leading: Our Perspective
This year by far is the most important in recent history for students, teachers, and public education. John Lewis, the late civil rights leader and congressman, inspired us all when he said, “If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a We at CEA have been doing all we can to demand safety and health precautions and full, equitable funding when schools reopen. We have been hosting and moral obligation to do something about it.”
Safety, equity, and funding have become our rallying cry and must be key features in any reopening plan. The pandemic exposed long- standing disparities in our school districts and gave new urgency to our movement to enhance equity for all students. The state must guarantee it is doing all it can to protect students and teachers in every district. We
Fighting for Safe Schools and a Democracy Worthy of Us All
Jeff Leake, CEA President
are urging them to adopt elements of CEA’s Safe Learning Plan and allow flexibility for all districts to return to school with models that best fit their district to ensure safe teaching and learning environments. So here we are—August 2020—and all we know is that this school year will be unlike any other we have experienced, no matter how long we’ve been in this profession. And we also know that despite all of the planning and negotiating that has taken place, we will have to be ready to adapt and change course quickly over 2020-2021. You accomplished so much with so little planning over the last three months of this past school year. You achieved your own personal best under extraordinary circumstances. And you will be called upon to reach new heights in the year ahead, for your students and your colleagues. Whether we are doing in-person or distance learning, we know what makes our students succeed, and we will do what we must to find that success once again. It will be that smile as we greet each
attending virtual meetings, organizing car rallies, reaching out to teachers, answering educators’ questions regarding school reopening, creating a Safe Learning Plan, conducting surveys regarding reopening, participating in meetings with the governor and education commissioner, making media appearances on local television and radio stations, and doing interviews with newspaper reporters—all to ensure that our message about safety, equity, and funding remains front and center in state reopening plans and that educators’ very valid concerns are on the minds of the public and elected officials. We know that you and all our union leaders in districts across the state are busy as well and trying to get some much-needed time to relax, unwind, and recharge while dealing with how our schools will look when they reopen. Despite all you are doing,
Tom Nicholas, CEA Vice President
16,000 of you took the time to complete our CEA Reopening Survey and share your concerns about going back to school during a pandemic. Three-quarters of you reject the state’s reopening plan. Read the story on page 3. More than a dozen CEA and AFT CT leaders participated in a roundtable discussion with Governor Lamont so that he could hear firsthand the issues and challenges facing educators when they return to school under his
“If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” Congressman John Lewis
Donald E. Williams Jr. CEA Executive Director
student at the start of a day, or that kind word to a struggling child to help them to reach even further. Together with our students, we will be more and do more than we thought possible. Know that CEA’s leadership team and dedicated staff are all in with you, as we continue to negotiate for the best opportunities for Connecticut’s students and educators. We know the most important question is not how
CEA GOVERNANCE Jeff Leake • President Tom Nicholas • Vice President
Stephanie Wanzer • Secretary David Jedidian • Treasurer
John Horrigan • NEA Director Tara Flaherty • NEA Director
CEA ADVISOR STAFF Nancy Andrews • Communications Director Lesia Day • Managing Editor Sandra Cassineri • Graphic Designer Laurel Killough • New Media Coordinator Eric Ahrens • Web Designer and Developer Summer 2020 Volume 62, Number 8 Published by Connecticut Education Association 1-800-842-4316 • 860-525-5641 cea.org CEA Advisor The CEA Advisor is mailed to all CEA members. Annual subscription price is $5.72 (included in membership dues and available only as part of membership). Institutional subscription price: $25.00. Advertising in the CEA Advisor is screened, but the publishing of any advertisement does not imply CEA endorsement of the product, service, or views expressed. CEA Advisor USPS 0129-220 (ISSN 0007-8050) is published in August (regular and special editions), October/November, December/January, February/ March, April (regular and special editions), May/June, and summer by the Connecticut Education Association, Capitol Place, Suite 500, 21 Oak Street, Hartford, CT 06106-8001, 860-525-5641. Periodicals postage paid at Hartford, Connecticut. Postmaster: Send address changes to CEA Advisor , Connecticut Education Association, Capitol Place, Suite 500, 21 Oak Street,
reopening plan. Educators have repeatedly called for directing additional resources to local school districts in order to implement CDC protocols needed to keep our schools safe and help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and they shared their stories with the governor directly. We are grateful that he listened and understands that our schools need funding. He committed to paying for masks and to devote additional funding from the HEROES Act to our schools. Later that same day, the governor also stepped back on his order to reopen all schools at full capacity. He agreed to greater flexibility for districts to reopen with hybrid plans. Read the story on page 5. And thousands of educators, along with their children, parents, friends, and colleagues, joined us in Safety First Car Caravan Rallies in 25 communities across the state. With signs on your cars and horns honking, you let your presence and message be heard that the reopening plan offered by the governor just didn’t do it for the safety of your students and your colleagues. You have continually offered suggestions about how we can begin the school year with enhanced safety and instructional strategies that will be the best they can be for Connecticut’s students. We thank you for your advocacy and participation in this statewide show of solidarity. See the story and photos on pages 6-7.
many days a week our students are in the school building but how to provide a safe, equitable learning environment for them. Our collective voice will drive action to ensure that our priorities are addressed and that they are the state’s priorities when it comes to reopening our schools. Our voices must also be heard on a national level. We need to stress the importance of voting on November 3 and electing those who value public education, support our educators, and stand with us in defending our rights and the rights of our students. We need an education secretary who will fight for us—not Betsy DeVos, who has threatened to take funding away from schools that do not reopen in the fall. At the NEA RA held virtually last month, delegates heard from presidential hopeful Joe Biden, who has received the recommendation of NEA’s Board of Directors and PAC Council. Read the story on page 13. Thank you for your hard work, dedication, and advocacy on behalf of your students and the teaching profession. We will get through this because we are stronger together. Remember the words of Congressman Lewis: “Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Never lose that sense of hope.” August 3, 2020
Hartford, CT 06106-8001. Production date: 8-4-2020
SUMMER 2020 CEA ADVISOR 3
NEW SURVEY HIGHLIGHTS TEACHERS’ CONCERNS FOR SCHOOL SAFETY, FUNDING
In a statewide CEA poll on school reopening completed by nearly 16,000 Connecticut educators in mid-July, 100 percent of respondents said it is important for teachers to be part of any school reopening plans. Their responses underscore the need to strengthen the state’s reopening guidance with CEA’s Safe Learning Plan, which provides detailed recommendations for safety, equity, and funding. Among other things, the plan calls for delayed openings, staggered schedules, hybrid learning, and guaranteed funding to ensure healthy and safe schools for all. (See pages 8-9.) While they are eager to return to their classrooms, nearly three- quarters of Connecticut educators (74 percent) strongly oppose reopening at full capacity based on current trends. They prefer either a full return to distance learning (46 percent) or a hybrid model, with a mixture of in-school and distance learning (39 percent). More than two-thirds (68 percent) say their districts do not have the funding needed to implement the necessary safety protocols, and an additional one in four teachers are unsure. Sixty-two percent indicate that there is inadequate airflow and ventilation in their schools, and nearly one in three (29 percent) have considered leaving public education because of the pandemic. Getting it right “We need to listen to the concerns of our educators, parents, community members, and health experts during a life-threatening pandemic,” says
CEA President Jeff Leake. “We can’t expect to reopen our schools in the usual fashion, especially as new evidence demonstrates that children ten years and older spread the virus as readily as adults.” The fact that nearly 16,000 teachers completed CEA’s survey, he adds, is a strong indication of the importance of this issue. Teachers overwhelmingly support these and other measures: • Requiring students and educators to follow CDC recommendations for regular handwashing (99 percent) • Having adequate supplies of hand sanitizer available throughout buildings (99 percent) • Limiting groupings of students and educators in a way that reflects schools’ ability to physically distance six feet apart, including in classrooms and gyms, 100% SAY I T I S IMPORTANT FOR TEACHERS TO BE
and on school buses (97 percent) • Providing and requiring masks for educators and students (96 percent) and prohibiting visitor access (96 percent) • COVID-19 testing protocols at each school (95 percent) • Running buses at half capacity or less (87 percent) and hiring bus monitors to help ensure social distancing and mask-wearing on school buses (91 percent) Challenges to implementation In spite of strong support for mask-wearing for students and educators, 90 percent of teachers overall anticipate it will be difficult for students to keep masks on all day; of those, 54 percent say doing so will be very difficult. An even greater number, 96 percent, expect challenges in implementing social distancing and other necessary health practices throughout the day. “We know the importance of following safety protocols, but we also know that our students, especially our youngest learners, are going to have
special and general education classrooms all expressed similar concerns about their students’ ability to follow safety protocols: • 96 percent of elementary school teachers anticipate keeping masks on students will be difficult, and • Adherence to safety protocols is expected to create challenges at the middle and high school levels as well. Ensuring that students maintain social distance throughout the school day is expected to be difficult, according to 96 percent of middle school teachers and 94 percent of high 98 percent believe it will be difficult for children to follow social distancing guidelines. school teachers. The same is true of mask-wearing, according to 88 percent of middle school teachers and 81 percent of high school teachers. • Special education teachers also say keeping masks on students (94 percent) and social distancing (97 percent) will be difficult for their students “Our dedicated educators are looking forward to starting a new school year, and we owe it to them to make sure it’s done safely,” says Leake, adding that state funding and flexibility will be critical to ensuring schools can implement hybrid plans that allow robust teaching and learning and keep everyone safe. View full survey results at cea.org.
PART OF ANY SCHOOL
extreme difficulties keeping their masks on, keeping their hands to themselves, and staying away from their friends and teachers,” Leake explains. Teachers at every level—elementary,
74% strongly oppose reopening at full capacity
say districts do not have funding needed to implement safety protocols 68%
middle, and high school—in both
IN THIS ISSUE
WAS THAT YOU WHO DIDN’T GET CEA’S SCHOOL REOPENING SURVEY?
4 • PROTECTING In the midst of a global health crisis, teachers—especially those who are medically vulnerable—approach school reopening with trepidation. Read how three teachers have worked with their union to seek accommodations and protection. 5 • ADVOCATING After an in-person roundtable discussion CEA organized between teachers and Governor Lamont, the governor announced additional flexibility for school reopening plans. 6-7 • RALLYING In a car rally organized by CEA and AFT CT, thousands of teachers around the state drove the message home that in any school reopening plan, safety must come first. 8-9 • GUIDING CEA’s Safe Learning Plan spells out what protections and contingencies must be in place when school starts this fall, ranging from bus transportation to school air quality and PPE. 10-11 • INFORMING What protections do you have when it comes to COVID-related unemployment, disability, and leave? CEA has rounded up a list of frequently asked questions and answers.
12 • RE-EVALUATING Like many teachers with underlying medical conditions, longtime Canton
teacher Susanne Russell weighed the risks of returning to in-person instruction and ultimately chose to retire. Read what factored into her decision and how she received help from her union to get the process in motion. Also read how Senator Chris Murphy and his Congressional colleagues are working to get more federal dollars into public schools. 13 • REPRESENTING The first-ever virtual NEA RA brought together education leaders, advocates, and exemplars to set a strategic plan for the coming year. Notable attendees included former Vice President Joe Biden and Georgia Representative Stacey Abrams, and video tributes to NEA’s outgoing president poured in from former First Ladies Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, Daily Show host Trevor Noah, and others. 14-15 • CEA-RETIRED For teachers retiring in 2020, the end of a lifelong career was marked by closed schools and empty classrooms. Read how three colleagues whose combined experience adds up to more than a century were honored by the community they had helped raise. 16 • SUPPORTING Read how all Teachers of the Year in one district came together to organize a Black Lives Matter event with the support of their community and police.
THOUGHT SO! DO WE HAVE YOUR CORRECT EMAIL ADDRESS? DON’T MISS OUT! Update your membership profile and email address by logging into NEA Ed Communities at mynea360.org . First-time visitors must create a personal profile.
4 CEA ADVISOR SUMMER 2020
FOR MEDICALLY VULNERABLE TEACHERS, FLEXIBLE SCHOOL REOPENING COULD PROVIDE RELIEF Risks remain; CEA continues to push for safety at all schools
A s the state moved toward a return to full-day, in-person public school in the fall, anxiety ran deep among teachers about how to do it without putting themselves or their students at risk. Even well-resourced districts, such as South Windsor, publicly acknowledged that their schools—and, in fact, most schools—simply could not guarantee a six-foot distance between students, noting that classroom sizes and layouts do not allow for it if all students return to school full-time at once. Teachers in higher-risk groups have wrestled with the decision to re-enter schools or leave the profession, and many have asked for accommodations that would allow them to teach without compromising their own health or that of their students. CEA and local association leaders have worked hand-in-hand with educators and administrators to address the need to protect everyone, and thanks to CEA’s ongoing communication with the governor and education commissioner, the state has backed off on its plan to have every school hold full-time, in-person instruction starting this fall. The flexibility of a hybrid model (which mixes in-person and remote instruction) along with options available through the Americans with Disabilities Act (see pages 10-11) allow many educators to continue doing what they do best—teach—without risking their lives. CEA continues to push for a Safe Learning Plan that affords every educator, student, and community the same protection.
has asthma, however, and returning full-time to a school at full capacity raised concerns for her own health as well as her children’s. “Seeing my students is the highlight of my day,” she says. “I want to see them, and I want to see my colleagues. But as a teacher with asthma and a parent of a child who’s in the public school system, I have concerns on both ends,” she says. Her school-age daughter had febrile seizures until she was four-and-a-half years old, a fact that puts her nine- week-old son at greater risk of the same. “Some of my hesitation about the state’s initial reopening plan, as I spoke to colleagues both in and outside of my district, was that we had guidelines but in some cases not mandates, so what would those precautions look like?” she asked. “How do we safely prepare ourselves and kids? What could they be bringing home? Are we possibly putting our students’ families in jeopardy? What happens if a student tests positive? All of these questions are coming into our heads.” She added, “I’ve also been working a virtual special education summer school and speaking to parents of young children concerned about how to keep masks on students with tactile-sensory issues. A lot of teachers are recording their lessons so that public health but also gives working families an opportunity to be involved in their students’ education. “We are looking at how to make sure everything is equitable.” Working from home, she acknowledges, “takes ten times longer than I ever imagined. The hours you put in are longer, and you may also be caring for your own kids at the same time.” But, she adds, “How safe is it to go back when colleges aren’t even holding in- person classes?” Toner is in favor of staggered school times so that not all students are in the building at the same time. She also wants to know the protocol for students who test positive for COVID, if and how it might be possible to conduct classes outdoors, how to maximize learning and ensure equity, and whether it’s possible to provide extra training and additional supports for parents when it comes to distance learning. Though she intends to return to school, Toner says, “If there’s a spike in coronavirus infections, I want to know what happens to teachers like me, who are at higher risk. I have appointments with my pulmonologist and have let my HR person know about my situation.” Jenna Toner families can go back and look at them together later.” That model, she says, is not only safer in terms of
MARGARET FITZGERALD, BROOKFIELD Elementary School Music/Band Teacher “One child lost or one staff member lost is too many.” Margaret Fitzgerald is a music teacher at Brookfield’s Huckleberry Hill School. The 42-year veteran educator is also a cancer survivor who lives with asthma and thyroid disease—an immune system disorder. For all the talk about a safe return to full-time, in-person learning earlier this summer, Fitzgerald wondered how safe the school environment would really be. “My district is doing a really great job of trying to plan for an uncertain future, they’ve given us a basic outline of three scenarios, and they’ve really done their homework, but it’s like trying to nail will things be like by the end of August? Teachers are planners, and this not knowing makes it difficult to decide what to do. It’s a very disconcerting feeling, but also it’s impossible to have a single plan when we don’t know what the situation will be in the fall. So many states are coronavirus hotbeds right now. I’m between a rock and a hard place.” She explained, “I teach music, and I’m a strong advocate for the arts in school, especially during this time of social-emotional disconnect, because music and art and movement are where kids go to express their emotions. When you sing or play an instrument, however, you have to put out a lot of air, and when a room is small with inadequate ventilation, you can get quite a viral load. They talk about aerosolization of particles in the air. By the end of the day, you are working in a Petri dish, and that frightens me. You can’t have a quality education if you’re not alive to receive the benefits of it. One child lost or one staff member lost is too many.” Under the state’s initial reopening plan, Fitzgerald was skeptical that all districts would have the funding necessary to cover personal protective equipment, cleaning and sanitation, added protections for children with special needs and their teachers, and additional custodians and other staff. “We can’t even get substitutes in many of our districts, so how would we pay for this? Our budget in Brookfield took a $1 million hit.” Fitzgerald’s goal is to teach under a virtual learning model until a coronavirus vaccine is available. A longtime treasurer for the Brookfield Education Association, she has been on the negotiating team for the past six or seven contracts and is heavily involved in her local and state teachers union. Margaret Fitzgerald Jell-O to a wall,” she said. “I’m not really sure about the fall, and that’s part of the angst with this, because what
“I’m used to agitating for the good,” she says. “We all need support, and if we come together, our voices are that much stronger. When school reopening decisions were being considered, we were canaries in a coal mine, but I knew that if we all raised our voices together, we would be heard.” MARGARITA DAVID, GREENWICH High School Social Studies/ History Teacher “When I entered the teaching profession, I didn’t sign up to risk dying.” Greenwich High School history teacher Margarita David is only 49 but is a recent breast cancer survivor. She has also had type 1 diabetes for 30 years—since she was a teenager. Because diabetes puts her at higher risk for serious complications and hospitalization if she contracts the coronavirus, her doctor has my cancer. And now, returning to school during a pandemic, I feel scared and uncomfortable. One of my main concerns is that I have 3,000 people in my school building on any given day, and in a given semester I could have 100 or more students. With a population that size, I am in a building with no ventilation, windows that don’t open, and an air filtration system I am not confident about.” As of late July, David said, the plan was to reopen the high school on more of a hybrid learning model, though she has requested an accommodation to continue teaching remotely. Well-versed in Google Suite and other digital platforms, she hopes that she could be matched Margarita David cautioned her to stay home. “It has been an extremely trying year for me, recovering from surgery to address
with students who are learning remotely. “I can’t imagine I’m alone,” she says. “It would be unwise not to look at circumstances other families are facing in a big community like Greenwich.” Though the 26-year teacher acknowledges that remote learning doesn’t replace in-person interaction, she says that given the current health crisis, it’s safer. “Teaching has always been invigorating for me. It’s always been what I’ve loved, but now I’m going into my job facing a situation where there are so many unknowns. When I entered the teaching profession I didn’t sign up to risk dying.” The unnecessary risk teachers now face, she says, “takes away our human dignity and professional value. I’ve been in contact with teachers who are in similar situations and who are worried.” David credits Greenwich Education Association President Carol Sutton with keeping teachers in the district informed and protected. “She has great communication with our members about decisions in town, how they’ll impact us, and how to stand united as a community of educators. She goes out of her way to advocate for teachers, because she works with her own teacher voice in her head. I don’t know what we would do without her.” JENNA TONER, MANCHESTER Middle and High School Special Education Teacher “How safe is it to go back when colleges aren’t even holding in- person classes?” Jenna Toner is a special education teacher in Manchester, and part of her job is taking Manchester Regional Academy students out into the community for work study, work placements, and connections to resources they need. At first glance, Toner—age 35 and the mother of a six-year-old and a newborn—doesn’t seem to be in a high-risk category for COVID. She
SUMMER 2020 CEA ADVISOR 5
GOVERNOR LISTENS TO TEACHERS’ CONCERNS DURING ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION; ANNOUNCES ADDITIONAL FLEXIBILITY FOR REOPENING
Governor Lamont entered a room at Manchester High School where dedicated educators from around the state had gathered so that he could hear firsthand their challenges and concerns regarding the state’s reopening plan. A few hours later, during his afternoon briefing, the governor announced additional flexibility for districts to implement hybrid reopening plans. CEA and AFT CT organized the meeting between the governor and teachers and were pleased that the governor heard and acted on teachers’ concerns regarding the need for safety, equity, funding, and flexibility when schools reopen. “The governor listened to our educators, who expressed their concerns and called for additional resources and flexibility for districts to ensure safety,” said CEA President Jeff Leake. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our students, our teachers, and their families.” “We are providing educational opportunities for our students, but we need our students to be safe,” Danbury teacher and local president Erin Daly told the governor. Daly said Danbury is 169th in per pupil spending, and funding is one of the biggest issues facing the district. “We worry that the lack of funding, overcrowding, and the infrastructure of the school system don’t allow for safety. The most reasonable hybrid model that works for us and keeps everyone safe is two days in the classroom and three days of distance learning.” Bridgeport Education Association President Ana Batista said safety and overcrowding are also major concerns in her district. “In one school we have 1,200 students, 55 classrooms, and one custodian. How can one person provide the daily disinfecting we need?” In addition, she said her district distancing. “That, compounded by the fact that our buildings are old, with poor ventilation—temperatures in some schools reach 108 degrees— causes very unhealthy conditions for students and teachers wearing masks.” Manchester math teacher and local president Kate Dias agreed and said teachers are anxious about what will happen when someone becomes infected and what that will be like for students and families in the community. “We want nothing more than to teach our students effectively, to give them the best education possible, but the question becomes, especially for has large class sizes and can’t accommodate six-foot social
Leake told the governor, “There must be a partnership that includes businesses and community organizations, not just our schools, working together to meet the responsibilities to our children.” Social-emotional needs In addition to a safe, healthy learning environment, children returning to school will need additional social- emotional support—a fact that CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas emphasized in the teachers’ conversation with the governor. “Students are facing additional trauma arising from the social justice issues facing our country and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Nicholas said. “They will be coming back to school with significant social- emotional needs that could go unmet if our schools don’t have the funding for additional resources and supports.” Educators urged the governor to provide for those supports and to have faith in them to do what is best for their students. Improved practice “Trust us as the experts to build the model that gives kids in-person care and support in a safe way, and trust us that we will do the job we want so badly to do,” said Dias. “My colleagues across the state are a heavily motivated group of people who want the best for kids.” Rather than opening schools at full capacity, teachers support a hybrid model that includes working with small groups of students. Leake said, “If we can stop thinking about 20-25 students in a classroom and think about 10-12 students, it gives us the confidence and ability to reopen schools safely.” “We are telling you to give us small groups and allow us to do what we do best: teach. They feel safer, and we feel safer,” Dias said. And when it comes to distance learning, teachers are prepared. “We were thrown into distance learning in March with little or no notice or training,” Suffield math teacher and local president Mark Janick recalled. “Now we know how to do distance learning. We have new techniques and best practices to keep students engaged and are ready to go back into it.” “I wish I could tell you let’s wait until it’s 100 percent safe,” the governor said. “I don’t know when it’s going to be safe. I can tell you I am doing everything I can to make it as safe as we humanly can. I can guarantee the masks, pay for extra janitors, and do what I can to give you confidence that we are doing everything we can to keep you safe, and that’s on me.” Later in the afternoon, during his 4 p.m. daily news briefing, the governor announced that while he prefers a full-time return to school, he will not dictate how instruction will be offered when schools reopen. He said he will allow local school systems to decide how to open schools. They can reopen fully, use hybrid models—a mix of distance learning and in-person classes—or full distance learning.
More than a dozen teachers participated in a roundtable discussion with Governor Lamont, sharing concerns about the state’s reopening plan. Clockwise, from left: Kate Dias, Manchester; John Redford, Cheshire; Mark Janick, Suffield; CEA Treasurer David Jedidian, Vernon; Governor Lamont; and Howie Ziperstein, Norwalk.
high-risk teachers, is it something I am willing to risk my job or my life for?” Dias invited the governor into her classroom and explained, “When I walked into my empty room, I caught my breath and imagined how I was going to have 24 high school students in the room.” The governor said he isn’t doing anything unless the metrics say it can be done safely. He acknowledged that he is “terrified we may have another flare-up” and doesn’t want to lose this opportunity to get kids in the classroom now, while the infection rates are low. He said if rates get high, schools will close and educators stressed the importance of funding to ensure CDC protocols are followed and shared stories of shortfalls in their districts. “We don’t have nurses, paraprofessionals, or any other extra staff to assist students, or space to spread students out,” said New Haven math teacher and AFT CT PreK-12 Council member Marianne Maloney. “While we have three excellent plans, we would need $13.5 million to make them work.” Stacy Vocasek, a teacher at Willimantic’s Arts at the Capitol Teachers executive board member, told the governor that teachers want to go back to school. “We are desperate to go back, but we have to make sure it’s safe. Right now the district can’t buy dry-erase markers for our classrooms. It’s hard to believe they will have the funding needed to keep all of us safe.” Shepaug Valley School math teacher and NEA Director Tara Flaherty said her district, like many others, is not putting money into purchasing clear plastic shields and clear masks, due to the cost. “How can we teach reading and speech to our students with masks on?” she asked the governor. “We need plastic barriers, custodians, districts will have full distance learning options ready to go. Funding equity All the Theater Magnet School and EASTCONN Federation of
social workers, masks so kids can see our faces, nurses, school counselors, and social workers in all schools because the gap between the haves and have-nots is getting wider, and we need to address that to create more equity. We need to get resources to all schools to make them safe.” New London teacher and local vice president Elizabeth Sked said clear masks are also needed in her district, which has a large population of English learners. “Without seeing my mouth it is hard for them, and it creates another level of inequity.” “We know that despite our best efforts and what resources we can muster, it won’t be enough to keep our kids safe. We know it,” stressed Daly. The governor said money should not be the issue. “We are not shortchanging you on public health and safety. The state will provide funding, and we will be getting funding from the HEROES Act and will devote it to schools.” Phasing in schools Cheshire math teacher and local president John Redford shared a recent survey taken in his district that revealed “teachers are devoted to coming back, but they are petrified.” He told the governor, “While you have done an excellent job reopening the state in phases, we need to do the same with schools. We don’t want to be a flash in the pan and have to close again. We want this to work, and phasing in schools is our best option.” Redford, a father of four, said his children are scared. “One doesn’t want to be in a cafeteria setting with all the students. Another says she knows that certain classmates won’t keep their masks on.” “Give us the latitude and encouragement to do this slowly,” he urged the governor. Teachers pointed out that the reopening of schools should be phased in, like the approach taken with businesses, restaurants, and other industries. “I have family members who are not going back into their offices until January, but I am going into a building with potentially 1,600 people in it,” said Dias. “So as a staff member, I don’t think there is enough hand sanitizer in the world to make me feel comfortable.” Teachers also expressed concern that schools are being reopened because parents need childcare in order to return to work. To that, the governor responded, “It’s not about childcare but hope and caring interactions with students. I know you are doing a lot more than childcare.”
Manchester teacher and local president Kate Dias showed Governor Lamont a classroom to highlight the difficulty of social distancing.
6 CEA ADVISOR SUMMER 2020
TEACHERS TAKE THEIR MESSAGE TO THE STREETS IN SAFETY FIRST CAR CARAVAN RALLIES ACROSS THE STATE Call for safety, equity, funding, and flexibility in reopening plans F rom Stamford to Stonington, Hamden to Hartford, and nearly two pandemic, we owe it to our students and educators to put their health and safety first.”
Driving the message home CEA urges the state to adopt the actions outlined in CEA’s Safe Learning Plan, which focuses on health and safety standards, including CDC protocols and commonsense approaches to keeping our school communities safe. (See story on pages 8-9.) Bolton music teacher Dan Ayer, who was at the Hartford rally, said, “Teachers know that the best learning happens in person, but the current plan is not safe for kids or staff. We need to send a message to the governor and the public that the state must reevaluate its priorities.” “As educators, we cannot consider moving forward with a plan that will compromise the health of our students and staff,” said Peter Borofsky, president of the Vernon Education Association, whose members traveled from Rockville High School to Lake Street School, passing every school building in the district. “We should not reopen,” said Borofsky, “until we can provide this basic safety requirement to our schools.” Cheshire art teacher Jillian Puckett, who attended the car rally in Hartford, said she and her colleagues were there to raise public awareness about myriad school reopening issues. “We feel supported in our town, but we are hamstrung by the lack of support at the state and federal levels.” “Reopening schools safely will cost significantly more than in pre- COVID times,” said Bridgeport Education Association President Ana Batista, noting, “We are a high- poverty district, and without additional funding, our schools cannot implement the CDC safety protocols necessary to ensure safe teaching and learning environments. Plus, when students return to school, they will have increased needs due to
dozen towns in between, teachers, students, parents, and community members joined School Safety First Car Caravans demanding health precautions and hybrid learning for school reopening plans. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our students, our teachers, and our school communities,” said CEA President Jeff Leake. “CEA and AFT Connecticut organized the car caravans to amplify teachers’ voices against state plans to reopen schools in person and at 100 percent capacity while the coronavirus is still not fully under control.” While teacher car parades were in full force, the governor announced that the state would agree to some flexibility in school reopening plans, allowing for hybrid learning models in some cases. CEA and AFT CT continue to press for safety for students, teachers, and staff in all schools. Drawing teachers from multiple districts, the largest caravan was in Hartford, where 1,000 vehicles traveled to the home of Governor Ned Lamont. Car caravans also traveled through two dozen other cities and towns, including Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, East Hartford, Greenwich, Haddam, Hamden, Naugatuck, Norwalk, Norwich, Putnam, Seymour, Stamford, Stonington, Stratford, Vernon, Willimantic, Wolcott, and Woodbridge. Cars were decorated with signs that read, “I can teach from a distance, but not from a coffin,” and, “I don’t accept incomplete work. Please resubmit your plan with necessary revisions.” “No one wants to return to school more than our dedicated educators,” Leake explained, “but during a global
Berlin teacher Jessica Ramy and her daughter Jaclyn and New Britain teacher Jennifer Kumnick and her daughters Alex and Avery prepare to take part in the Hartford car caravan.
learning loss, trauma from the pandemic, and time away from school. They will need additional resources and supports.” well-being of our students and educators has to be our first priority,” “The safety and
Stonington Education Association
President Michael Freeman agreed. “We can’t implement CDC safety protocols, including smaller class sizes, sanitizing stations, daily disinfecting, social distancing guidelines, and more, without additional funding.” Stonington teachers participated in a car rally that wound its way through Mystic and Pawcatuck, starting and ending at Stonington High School. Amity High School social studies teacher Leeann Browett, who participated in the Hartford rally, said, “It makes my heart happy to see so many teachers united together.” Her goal was to persuade the governor to give teachers and students the same safety measures that have been allowed for consumers and businesses in Connecticut’s slow, phased-in reopening. Schools are not experiments “So many of us are not comfortable with the plans put out so far, and we need to keep getting the governor’s attention on this,” said Mansfield middle school math teacher Sue Kamienski, who attended the rally with Mansfield music teacher Liz Whiteley. “The governor so far has been great in his response to
COVID-19, and we need to extend that to our schools and make it safe for teachers and kids to come back. It’s not feasible for all students to return at once.” “With less than a month before school starts, we still don’t know what’s happening or how our schools will get the funding needed to implement CDC safety protocols to keep us all safe,” said Hamden Education Association President Diane Marinaro. “Hamden is looking to go back with a hybrid model. If we have to go back, we need to know that every step is being taken to protect our health and safety. The state needs to recognize the funding issues so that all students and staff are protected.” Dozens of Hamden teachers participated in a car rally that traveled through local neighborhoods and ended at Hamden Middle School. See hundreds of photos and videos of School Safety First car caravans at cea.org and on CEA’s Facebook ( facebook.com/CTEdAssoc ) and Flickr ( flickr.com/photos/ceapics ) pages.
The Hartford car caravan drew more than 1,000 teachers as well as CEA leaders and staff, including CEA President Jeff Leake (far right).
SUMMER 2020 CEA ADVISOR 7
CAR CARAVANS AROUND THE STATE
8 CEA ADVISOR SUMMER 2020
CEA’S SAFE LEARNING PLAN When it comes to school reopening, CEA has made clear that safety comes first. No plan can work if it fails to meet public health and safety requirements or provide the funding necessary to make schools safe. CEA’s ongoing calls for safety first—through
Additional resources for school districts will be necessary to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Without added funding, many schools cannot implement CDC protocols necessary to keep schools safe. “Connecticut must address the deep disparities in resources for school districts across the state, a problem that the pandemic laid bare this spring,” says Leake. “To prevent students in high-needs districts from losing further ground, the governor and lawmakers must provide districts with equitable funding for all COVID-related expenses.” CEA’s Safe Learning Plan, released in mid-July, makes school reopening contingent on six requirements.
flexibility, including allowing them to open with hybrid models that combine in-classroom teaching and distance learning. While this is a step in the right direction, it is not enough. “We need to ensure the safety of all students, teachers, support staff, and their families at this time of great uncertainty,” says CEA President Jeff Leake. “The state must therefore provide local districts the funding that will allow them to implement the kind of flexibility that can prevent students from being crowded into classrooms and on buses, risking a surge in the state’s COVID-19 infection rates.”
1. SCHOOL BUILDINGS MUST NOT OPEN IF CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL (CDC) AND PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY REQUIREMENTS CANNOT BE MET. The CDC has offered three cautionary risk ratings regarding reopening schools. Virtual instruction carries the lowest risk, while full-size, in-person classes and activities with students mixing between classes and sharing materials poses the greatest risk. Somewhere in the middle is a hybrid model that could include various risk-reducing measures, such as in-person classes where small groups of students remain at least six feet apart, stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days, do not share objects, and do not mix with other student cohorts. Hybrid virtual and in-person class structures or staggered/rotated schedules are two ways of accommodating smaller class sizes. Cohorting—that is, keeping groups of 10 or fewer students together with the same staff as much as possible—is a promising strategy, according to a recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report also recommends that schools • Reorganize classrooms to enable physical distancing • Provide surgical masks for all teachers and staff • Have ample access to handwashing stations and hand sanitizer for anyone who enters a school building • Minimize contact with shared surfaces and increase regular surface cleaning • Limit large gatherings of students, such as assemblies and cafeteria dining • Prevent building entrances from becoming overcrowded, perhaps by staggering arrival times • Prioritize air ventilation and filtration • Create a culture of health and safety in every school and enforce virus mitigation guidelines using positive approaches rather than by disciplining students 2. THE STATE MUST PROVIDE FUNDING FOR COVID-RELATED EXPENSES SO THAT ALL SCHOOL DISTRICTS CAN EFFECTIVELY DELIVER INSTRUCTION AND MEET CDC AND PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY REQUIREMENTS. Reopening schools must be premised on having the funding and resources necessary to meet required health and safety protocols. Connecticut can meet this obligation by • Immediately allocating the regular meetings with the education commissioner, discussions with the governor, the development of a detailed Safe Learning Plan, and car rallies to generate awareness and support for the plan— have led to positive changes in Connecticut’s approach. Having initially championed full-time, in-person instruction this fall—which the governor still prefers—the state is now giving districts more
additional/reduced-size classes, transportation, and more. • Immediately allow access to School Construction Bonding Funds to be used for coronavirus-related infrastructure expenses. This would include HVAC expenses, reconfiguring classrooms, installing protective barriers, and other related expenses. • Raise the permissible carryforward of 2 percent of unexpended school funds (current law) to 5 percent, provided the funds are used solely for educational purposes and remain under the purview of the board of education, without requiring board of finance approval. “State and federal funding to support safety requirements is critical,” says CEA Executive Director Donald Williams. “We can’t risk reversing the state’s progress in controlling the virus by falling short when it comes to protecting students and adults in our schools (and the families they go home to each day). We are seeing a significant resurgence of the virus in places where safety was not the first priority.” Funding must also ensure equity for all public schools. The move to distance learning highlighted huge inequities among districts, with wealthy communities supplying laptops and other learning tools, while poorer communities often lacked access to Wi-Fi and had difficulty providing hard- copy packets for distance learning. Reopening schools without additional funding for districts in need will make inequities worse and deepen the racial divide. In addition, enhanced outreach and accommodations must be provided for students with special needs, English learners, and their educators. The state must ensure that no district lacks funding necessary for COVID-related expenses and
must be part of the solution. A workable plan must connect community partners where all—not just schools—share in meeting the responsibilities to our children. Companies should provide flexible schedules for employees to accommodate school schedules. Daycare options must be a priority. Implementing COVID-related precautions is estimated to cost $1.8 million for a school district with eight school buildings and 3,200 students. These costs come at a financially uncertain moment and could lead to funding shortfalls. The state and federal government must respond to this funding crisis to avoid leaving students and staff in many districts at greater risk. Congress should quickly make sufficient funding available to states and localities to support K-12 education for the fall. Extra funds should be available to public school districts expected to face the greatest gaps in staffing and infrastructure, based on formulas that measure the number of children who receive nutritional assistance and special education services. 3. THE RISKS FOR STUDENTS AND ADULTS RETURNING TO SCHOOL DURING A PANDEMIC MUST BE RECOGNIZED AND FULLY ADDRESSED. While children do not appear to carry the same risk of illness from COVID-19 as adults, they are nevertheless capable of becoming infected, suffering adverse—even life-threatening—health consequences, and transmitting the virus to teachers, other school staff, parents, and grandparents. Recent evidence suggests that children 10 and older are just as likely as adults to transmit the coronavirus. Bringing large numbers of school-age children together could help drive transmission of the virus, according to Dr. Kevin Dieckhaus, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Connecticut, who adds, “Institution of appropriate social distancing in the school environment would certainly reduce the risk but may be difficult to fully implement in a setting with large numbers of young children.” The American Academy of Pediatrics joined with the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the School Superintendents Association in July to jointly emphasize the shared priority of health and safety, stating, “Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children,
equitable access to education. The state must also be prepared to provide support to rectify remote learning inequities, including lack of laptops, tablets, and Internet access for all students and teachers. Partnerships are also critical. For our state to recover and schools to be a part of that recovery, businesses and other constituencies
required funding for coronavirus- related educational
expenses. This would include costs for PPE,
testing, additional classroom space, staffing due to