The state’s teachers unions criticized the Department of Education’s school reopening plan this week, saying it doesn’t go far enough to protect students and teachers.
In a joint statement released shortly after Gov. Ned Lamont and Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona announced a possible school reopening in the fall, the American Federation of Teachers and the Connecticut Education Association said the plan was inadequate.
“Gov. Lamont’s plan is short on specifics and doesn’t address some of the most pressing issues associated with reopening our buildings this fall,” the statement said. “The new plan raises many concerns and leaves dozens of unanswered questions regarding how schools will operate in a COVID-19 world. Simply directing district officials to follow generic CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations, without customizing requirements for the realities of our school settings, is insufficient for a safe statewide reopening.”
The unions wanted to see smaller class sizes; staggered start times; routine testing for COVID-19; monitoring health and well-being of all students; state-provided personal protective equipment (PPE); disinfecting schools daily; and cleaning classrooms, hallways, bathrooms and commonly shared areas and equipment, including desks and computers, to provide a safe learning and teaching environment.
The school reopening plan calls for mask-wearing by teachers and students, “mask breaks,” using larger school areas to social distance, frequent handwashiing, cohorting students in groups, and disinfecting in classrooms and buildings. The plan does not require COVID-19 testing, because the results are only accurate for the moment, according to Cardona.
The state Department of Education also called on districts to develop hybrid models, utilizing classroom time and remote learning in the event there is some
community spread of the coronavirus, and a complete remote-learning model if there is a significant uptick in infection rates.
The DOE considered input from school representatives, educators, families, students, educational stakeholders, advocacy organizations and union representatives. It also conducted a review of nationally and globally published school reopening plans. The importance of access to in-person schooling rose as a priority related to educational opportunities, safety, well-being, and social-emotional learning, according to Cardona.
“This pandemic represents more than a virus. It represents an historic disruption to our school communities and created barriers to how we best deliver academic and non-academic supports in a way that is accessible, equitable, and meaningful,” Cardona said in prepared remarks. “Addressing the educational setbacks and the social-emotional toll caused by COVID-19 is best accomplished by maximizing in-person instructional time.”
Lauren Mancini-Averitt, president of the Meriden chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, is anxiously waiting until Monday for more details of the plan.
Some of the concerns from teachers have been their health risk or the risk to a family member should a teacher be exposed to the virus. There is also the struggle to get children of all ages to wear a mask and keep it on.
“We have been meeting with the commissioner frequently and he knows where we stand,” Mancini-Averitt said. “All the teachers want to return to normalcy, but trying to get children to wear masks all day is not a plan.”
When teachers receive a return-to-work order there is a legal federal obligation to return to the classroom. But Mancini-Averitt hopes there could be financial provisions attached to federal funding to help teachers who are reluctant to return to the classroom without exhausting sick or family leave time.
Parents on social media have also expressed concerns over keeping masks on children and many have said they will not be sending their children back in the fall, if that’s the plan.
Mancini-Averitt would like to see some flexibility that allows superintendents to match some stay-at-home students with stay-at-home teachers.
“We’re hoping there is some flexibility to discuss what to do with those people,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to iron that out. It depends on what happens Monday in those details. What we got is not making us happy. We want to keep everybody healthy and return to some normalcy.”