While Connecticut educators enthusiastically welcome students back into their classrooms, deep concerns remain about COVID safety—in particular, the lack of adequate ventilation in schools—and stress levels remain high.
A CEA Back-to-School Survey released today found that the vast majority of Connecticut teachers—who are vaccinated and eager to resume in-person learning—are nevertheless reticent about returning to schools that have not adequately mitigated against the risk of COVID. In a press conference to discuss survey results, CEA leaders called on state officials and local school districts to heed educators’ concerns and invest in making school environments healthy and safe.
“Our teachers are tracking far ahead of the community at large in terms of vaccination rates,” CEA President Kate Dias told reporters, “and they are excited—but also apprehensive—about coming back.”
Citing one of the survey’s key findings, Dias noted that while virtually all teachers identified school air quality as a top safety priority and concern, just over a quarter said that air quality issues were being addressed at their schools.
“Here in Manchester, the community at large voted to contribute and really make a solid commitment to school facilities,” said Dias, a math teacher at Manchester High School, where the press conference was held. “We’re looking for that to be a theme across the state—because while 97 percent of our members say air quality is a really strong concern, only 27 percent said that it was actively being addressed. 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.”
“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,” said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams. “This was important before the pandemic, 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. And as we see temperatures get hotter and more extreme every single year, students, teachers, and staff suffer in a way that we would not put up with in typical office buildings or at the State Capitol.”
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.
For those who have argued that the cost of upgrading school HVAC systems is prohibitive, Williams countered, “Now that excuse is gone. Connecticut has received $1.1 billion in aid to assist with enhancement and capital improvement in education. That’s spot-on in terms of upgrading air quality systems and providing air conditioning where it doesn’t exist.”
“Your teachers’ working conditions are your students’ learning conditions,” CEA Vice President Joslyn DeLancey pointed out. “This survey shows us that we need to make an investment in our schools. 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 within our schools. 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.”
Other key survey findings centered on teachers’ stress levels and their feelings about remaining in their jobs.
“Without any surprise to anyone, teachers spoke about their stress level being an 8.7 on a 10-point scale last school year,” said Dias. “That doesn’t really surprise us in a pandemic. We were teaching in various modalities; there was a lot of stress and a lot of change. But teachers are coming into the current school year still with elevated stress levels. It begs the question: How are we going to support our teachers during a second year of a lot of unpredictable circumstances?”
She continued, “Teachers’ stress levels dovetail with a survey finding that 38 percent are considering vacating the profession—either retiring early or changing careers. As communities at large, we really need to dig deep and figure out how we can address that problem. How do we meet the needs of teachers, and how do we make sure that schools are not just great places for kids—because we all agree that’s a top priority—but that they’re also great places for educators, where they can continue to grow and feel that they’re invested in?”
“We’re here today to ask that the governor and officials in the State Department of Education heed the information in this survey and what teachers have pointed out,” said Williams, “starting with the essential need to provide quality air to breath—a basic human right. It’s time that we’re as humane to our schoolchildren and the staff who work in our schools as we are to animals in our pet stores.”
Coverage of today’s survey release will appear on most local television news networks, as well as several radio stations and newspapers. Portions will air on NBC Connecticut News at 4 p.m., 5 p.m., and 6 p.m. as well as on other news programs this evening. The full press conference was livestreamed on Facebook. Watch below.