Governor Lamont has suggested he may be open to dropping the statewide mask mandate for schools leaving the decision up to local districts, but teachers and school staff say infection rates in Connecticut are still too high, and we must continue to follow public health guidelines.
Teachers, paraeducators, school nurses, custodians, food service, and other public education professionals are calling on state officials to follow the science when it comes to student and staff safety. Labor leaders representing nearly 60,000 school employees across Connecticut are urging masks be worn by all, regardless of vaccination status, to protect against the latest COVID-19 surge.
“We have remained among the safest states throughout this pandemic because elected leaders have heeded the call to ‘follow the science,’” said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. “It has provided a reliable road map for the numerous tough decisions we’ve faced as labor leaders and educators. There is no sound reason to veer off course now and put the health and safety of our members and their students at greater risk.”
Speaking at today’s State Board of Education meeting, CEA President Kate Dias said that leaving masking decisions up to local districts will place an unfair burden on teachers.
“Local control makes it a political volleyball, and teachers are stuck in the middle,” said Dias. “Teachers don’t want to be stuck in the middle on yet one more thing. They’ve been in the center of so many debates over the last year and a half—we cannot do that to our educators. There needs to be a decision at the state level setting expectations for schools to keep them open and safe while recognizing the limitations of our facilities.”
“Connecticut teachers want our schools to be open and safe, so they can care compassionately for their students,” said CEA Vice President Joslyn DeLancey. “We know there will be a time when we can say the need for masks in schools is over, but right now that’s premature. We want to keep schools open, we want to support our teachers, and of course we want to support and care for all of our students, with all of their diverse needs. To do that we need our teachers in-person, healthy, and able to teach.”
Watch Dias’ and DeLancey’s comments to the State Board of Education today.
Unlike large stores or office buildings, such as the one where today’s State Board of Education meeting was held, most school classrooms do not have high ceilings and updated HVAC systems. Dias said that to ensure proper ventilation, teachers must leave classroom windows open—a tough prospect in the middle of winter.
“We recognize the desire to get through this, to the next phase in the pandemic, but we’re cautious given what we just witnessed with the omicron surge. We want to stay in school, and masks are one of the only mitigation strategies we still have, so lets keep them in place a little longer. No one wants masks to be a permanent fixture in schools, but teachers are saying, ‘Give this a little more time, let’s get through this surge.'”
She continued, “Let’s not forget we still have large numbers of unvaccinated students in our classrooms, and COVID sub-variants are proving more transmissible. We must continue to do all we can to keep students and staff safe and schools open.”
During a recent press briefing Dr. Ulysses Wu, Hartford HealthCare’s chief epidemiologist, gave his professional recommendation on masks in schools. “We are still not in a great place at this point. That’s why I’m not a politician and I can’t make those decisions but from a science standpoint, it certainly makes sense to have masking. When to remove that masking, that remains to be seen at this point.”
Dias asked State Board of Education members to consider what teachers are facing right now. “Teachers are sitting in poorly ventilated spaces with mostly unvaccinated individuals doing the very best they can to get through an unprecedented situation. I ask that you support continuing this mandate just a little longer. We look forward to the day when our positivity rates are low and our vaccination rates are high in our schools. That’s just not where we are today.”
Governor Lamont’s current statewide mask mandate for schools is set to expire February 15 unless the legislature takes action to extend it.