State unions criticize school reopening plans

State unions criticize school reopening plans

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At-risk school staff are not getting the exemptions they need to work from home, ventilation in many schools is poor, equipment is not being provided and social distancing is no guarantee, teacher union officials told the media Monday. 

Representatives from the Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers of Connecticut said there are classrooms without windows or proper ventilation in some districts while others don't have enough room for students and teachers to remain 6 feet apart.

Last week, the CEA had asked for a two-week delay in school reopening, but the delay was not included in the 13 school reopening principles the unions released Monday.   

CEA affiliates around the state include unions in Wallingford, Southington, Cheshire, Berlin, Plainville, North Haven, Middlefield and Durham. Teachers in Meriden are represented by the American Federation of Teachers 

“We are urging solidarity with all our unions,” said American Federation of Teachers Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. “ We are urging districts if they don’t have the funds, or don’t have the PPE... If they can’t do the things on this list, our suggestion is go to distance learning until they can.”

Union leaders from CEA, AFT and the AFL-CIO said that although there is a law against teachers striking in Connecticut, they will consider other measures, including naming the least cooperative districts. About 15 to 30 percent of school workers statewide said they have compromised immune systems and are not being given reasonable options, officials said.   

“We wouldn’t think for a second to say to a student with a compromised immune system ‘That’s all well and good but here’s the deal, you have to come in to school and get your education or go without,’” said Donald Williams, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association. “But teachers with compromised conditions are pretty much being told just that.”  

The unions, including those representing school paraprofessionals, secretaries and custodians, will continue to fight at the district level, union leaders said.

Jeff Leake, president of the CEA told reporters that half of the districts said they can’t accommodate six-foot distancing.

“Many teachers, we are being told, say school districts can’t provide PPE,” Leake said.  

The state announced a school reopening plan based on its COVID-19 infection rate, which at 1.8 out of 100,000 people is one of the lowest in the country. It has provided $266 million to school districts to pay the added costs of things like PPE, cleaning and disinfecting, improving ventilation systems and technology to help students to learn remotely. 

The city of Meriden received $2.3 million. City schools are slated to reopen for half-days on Sept. 3 and 4, and full-time on Sept. 8. The president of the city teachers union has opposed a two-week reopening delay. 

"Districts have spent an exorbitant amount of money, and a two-week push back for the districts that don't have any money, it's not going to help them," said Lauren Mancini-Averitt, president of Meriden’s teachers union. "This plan has cost Meriden Public Schools and other districts a massive amount of money, and that two weeks is just going to make it so that we spend even more.”

 Rob Blanchard, a spokesman for the governor 's office, said last week that the state is trying to ensure "we do not have a lost year of education" by putting in place "plans and guidelines that keep students and staff safe, while also doing our best to provide our young people with access to an education that prepares them for the future.

"After schools closed last spring, 176,000 Connecticut students did not log on for a single day of distance learning," Blanchard continued. "Although we've since taken significant steps to equip students to learn from home, we also know that nothing compares to safe, high-quality, in-person education with the nation's best teachers and other education professionals."

Gov. Ned Lamont addressed the teachers’ concerns at a press conference Monday. He said the state would be checking with districts over possible shortcomings in the state’s reopening plan. 

“We’ll definitely be checking back,” Lamont said. “Our job is to give teachers the confidence we’re only going back if we can do it safely...”

Information from the Associated Press was included in this story. 

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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