THE CHALLENGE IN 2020-2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on a hard truth that our members know—unless the state and federal government take strong steps to provide resources to school districts, Connecticut’s students, teachers, and staff will lack:
- Equitable access to critical safety protections, and
- The educational resources and tools needed for
Circumstances in Connecticut and throughout the country have changed multiple times in the past four months. CEA’s Safe Learning Plan continues to prioritize health, safety, and equity. We strongly advocate that the state amend its plan to include the specifics outlined here as to safety in education for all students, and all teachers and staff.
Any return to the classroom must be done in full compliance with expert health and safety guidelines. In addition, Connecticut must enhance its plans for remote learning for at-risk students and teachers, which will be necessary for some under any scenario, and may be necessary for all if circumstances warrant.
The Connecticut State Department of Education’s plan to reopen schools this fall presently requires that local school districts shoulder the burden of implementing and paying for COVID-related costs, including PPE. This is unacceptable and will worsen inequities that already exist in financially challenged school districts.
While Connecticut has seen a lessening impact of the virus, COVID-19 infection rates are accelerating in many other parts of the country. Connecticut has
so far succeeded and must remain vigilant in reducing the infection rate, and that includes being cautious in the reopening of activities that can spread the virus, such as any reopening of schools.
Educators know that the best education occurs in the classroom, but educators are not in favor of reopening schools in a manner that jeopardizes the health and safety of students, educators and their families, and increases infection rates in our communities.
CEA’s Six Recommended Requirements For The 2020-2021 School Year:
- Do not open school buildings if Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and public health and safety requirements cannot be met.
- For any school reopening, guarantee that funding for COVID-related expenses will be provided by the state so that all school districts can meet the CDC and public health and safety requirements.
- Recognize and address the risks for students, teachers, and staff in school during a pandemic.
- Understand that moving the economy forward is dependent on the safety of schools, not on the mere reopening of schools.
- Allow schools to begin the school year through distance/remote learning where necessary; for any in-class learning, require that districts reduce density and allow staggered schedules to meet CDC and public health and safety requirements.
- Institute testing for all students, teachers, and staff who return to school, once per week, and institute contact tracing protocols.
CEA’s Safe Learning Plan promotes the safety of all while providing a way forward whether in school, or through remote learning. Educators want to teach their students in person, but in a pandemic it is critical that our schools are safe for all students, teachers, staff, and their families. If schools are not
safe, they should not reopen.
Follow the Advice of Public Health Experts
The Safe Learning Plan outlines steps that must be taken so that educators can teach and students are able to learn in safe environments—in every school
district. CEA’s Safe Learning Plan prioritizes health and safety based on the advice of health experts.
Protect Connecticut’s Progress
We must protect the sacrifices and progress we have made since the March shutdown that resulted in a decrease of virus infections. The state’s plan—calling for a full-time return to school for all students—raises serious questions about maintaining safety during a pandemic that is worsening in other states. Safe schools require protections that work in demanding school settings. The roadmap to in-school instruction must be clear and focused on protecting the health of our school populations.
Appropriate accommodations must be made for students and staff at higher risk, and appropriate guidelines must be in place to provide a safe learning
and teaching environment that includes but is not limited to:
- Following all public health requirements for schools, including state-provided personal protective equipment, disinfecting classrooms, hallways, bathrooms, and commonly shared areas and equipment daily, six feet of spacing between students in classrooms, and more.
- Reducing density on school buses to ensure adherence to CDC social distancing guidelines.
- Testing for COVID-19, with contact tracing protocols in place.
- Monitoring students for virus symptoms.
Equity for All School Districts
The move to distance learning highlighted huge inequities among our districts, particularly severe in urban districts and communities of color. The state’s wealthy communities provided laptops and other online learning devices, while poorer school districts had difficulty providing hard-copy packets
for distance learning. Students were not getting the instruction they needed—a problem worsened by inadequate access to technology. 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 special needs students, English learners, and their educators.
Resources and Partnerships
The state must ensure that funding is available to all districts for the resources required to meet CDC guidelines and other protections. Schools will
need more funding, not less, as students return with increased needs due to learning loss, trauma from the pandemic, and time away from school. Before
parents send their children back to school, and before educators enter their classrooms, districts must have the funds necessary to make schools safe. We must prevent schools from being incubators for spreading
COVID-19 and contributing to another economic shutdown. For our state to recover, businesses and other constituencies 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.
CEA’s Safe Learning Plan will strengthen the plan recently released by the state. It requires that health and safety remain at the forefront of any school
reopening plan. It prioritizes long-term strategies for student learning and educational equity, which require that the state do its part and provide the necessary funding. Failing to fund our future means we will see greater inequities across our districts and jeopardize the health and well-being of communities throughout the state.