Leaders of education unions representing thousands of public school employees today presented a petition to the governor that was signed by more than 14,000 education and community members urging the state to take immediate steps to protect the health of students, staff, and communities.
Standing on the steps of the State Capitol, CEA President Jeff Leake said, “At great risk to themselves and their families, Connecticut’s dedicated educators are going to work every day amid massive COVID outbreaks and unsafe working conditions. With surging infection rates and vaccines for the general public not available until after the new year, the state must shift to full-time remote learning until at least mid-January to ensure that in-person learning is a safe strategy for our students and teachers—not an experiment, not a gamble.”
Leake said that Connecticut educators have worked hard throughout the pandemic to provide consistency and compassion to their students. “Educators who are doing their best to provide quality instruction and protect the health of their community are often being denied the social distancing and capacity restrictions expected and mandated elsewhere.”
Union coalition leaders unfurled a 20-foot-long scroll with the names of all 14,000 plus petition signers that spilled down the Capitol steps. They said the many petition signers reinforce the urgency of their months-long campaign for safe and healthy schools. They said the surging COVID-19 infection rate demands the establishment and enforcement of consistent statewide safety protocols, along with uniform transparency in reporting and responding to cases, for schools.
“Students, teachers and support staff are not safer in schools,” said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. “Every time the governor mentions that they are, he loses support and confidence with many of our members and their students’ parents. If schools are safe, why are we constantly in quarantine due to infections and exposures?”
The union coalition’s petition campaign follows the Nov. 24 release of the report, “Safe and Successful Schools Now,” which calls for a shift to all remote learning unless stronger protections are in place to keep our school communities safe.
Many of the 14,000 people who signed the petition also provided commentary from the frontlines of public education during a pandemic:
- “My brother contracted COVID at an elementary school. He brought it to my elderly mother who died from it. I am heartbroken as well as terrified.”
- Cos Cob: “We want schools open but need consistent protocols and protections.”
- Waterbury: “The disparity and lack of clarity around COVID response in school districts right now is completely unacceptable.”
- New Milford: “Transparency is important and contact tracing is important and neither is happening in my school.”
- Northford: “We matter. Our students matter. Our families matter. Protect us.”
- Branford: “You need to set a state standard so ALL can be safe and still learn.”
- Mansfield: “With the timing of cold weather and windows being closed, more students being brought into our buildings, gatherings and travel of families during the holiday season, lack of social distancing, and the rapid rise in Covid cases, this feels like a perfect storm. I am in agreement that if testing can’t happen, and other appropriate protocols followed, then schools should go remote until after the holidays to at least eliminate some of the risk to staff and students right now.”
- Manchester: “With the return to full time in person learning, the social distancing has been much more difficult to manage given the increase in numbers. Also, the schools are not being cleaned and sanitized as initially promised.”
- Old Saybrook: “We have done a wonderful job keeping students in school through the Thanksgiving holiday, however, as the numbers increase and towns are moving into the red zone, it is imperative that we take greater measures to keep students, staff, and our families safe.”
- Ellington: “With groups of 20-25 people in a room at the same time, social distancing cannot be accommodated. I want to work- but I want to work safely. Please support the health of students, educators, paraprofessionals, and all other staff by mandating that schools adhere to protocols that keep us safe.”
- Ridgefield: “We keep hearing about how safe the schools are yet we’ve had multiple COVID positive cases in the district and are seeing those cases increase every week. Furthermore, protocols for testing and quarantining have been unevenly applied and students are returning to school after a long weekend with large family gatherings, putting their classmates and teachers at risk. I do not feel safe in my building.”
The Board of Education Union Coalition represents unionized public education employees across the state and includes members of CEA, AFT Connecticut, SEBAC, CSEA, CEUI, MEUI, AFSCME, and UAW.