Union Leaders Question Safety and Equity of Schooling as COVID Surges in Connecticut

HARTFORD — As COVID-19 infections surge across Connecticut, union leaders went to Hartford to present a petition calling on the governor to shift all schools to remote learning absent stronger safety precautions. 

The petition, signed by nearly 14,000 educators, school employees, and community members, is an “unfortunate last resort,” said Mary Yordon, president of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1727 and Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut. 

In a press conference at the State Capitol on Thursday morning, leaders of the Board of Education Union Coalition urged the state to establish statewide safety protocols and uniform systems for reporting and responding to COVID-19 cases in schools. 

“The entire state is in the red zone and many of our districts remain open,” said Cynthia Ross-Zweig, Paraeducator Council President of CSEA SEIU Local 2001. “The infection rate is at an all time high. To simply keep the doors open without regard to science cannot possibly be in the best interest of our children.” 

Jeff Leake, president of the Connecticut Education Association, emphasized that many teachers are putting themselves and their families at higher risks than workers in other sectors, like in restaurants or retail, where statewide restrictions are in place. 

“While tighter restrictions and protocols have been established elsewhere, educators, who are doing their best to deliver quality instruction and protect the health of their communities, are often being denied the social distancing and capacity restrictions expected and mandated elsewhere as people gather,” Leake said. 

Absent state restrictions, each local government has handled school safety challenges differently, creating what Shellye Davis, co-president of the Hartford Federation of Paraeducators, AFT Local 2221 and Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut, called an unequal system. 

“Every district and local health department has approached reopening buildings differently,” Davis said. “It’s troublesome that we do not have an equitable or transparent approach in keeping schools, students and staff safe. State leaders should have provided more than guidance and support.”

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