Powell Turns a Deaf Ear to Educators who are Overextended, Underprotected

At a time when the education community is working overtime to provide students with the academic, social, and emotional support they need, Chris Powell attacks the men and women on the frontlines of this effort: teachers.

Since the pandemic hit last year, teachers have taken on an increasingly heavy burden, putting students’ needs above their own well-being and pivoting from in-person to remote or hybrid teaching and back, all while juggling the same responsibilities as other parents and caregivers. In return, they have stood with their union in asking that schools reopen safely, with the same measures and protections as other public spaces.

Powell states that it is worth cherishing memories of old school days. We agree. However, we encourage citizens to recognize the current pandemic for what it is—a once in a hundred year event during which teachers have selflessly risen to the occasion seeking what is in the best interest of their students.

It is unclear and deeply disturbing to teachers that Powell chose in his column to bring up author William L. Shirer, who wrote about another event that profoundly changed historyThe Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.  How anyone could seek a link between the German culture that acceded to Hitler and CT’s school culture is beyond our understanding.

This bizarre and deeply offensive column is the latest in Powell’s attacks on teachers who have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep students engaged academically and socially, risking their own health and putting aside time with their own families to ensure that their students have the support they need. In addition to piling on hours to every workday and workweek recording videos, reconceiving lessons, mastering new curriculum delivery methods and assessments, and teaching on screen and in person—often simultaneously—teachers have distributed meals and clothing to students on weekends, reached out to families in need of assistance with everything from technology to community resources, and spent hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets on basic necessities that underfunded schools have been slow to provide.

Ridiculing the public’s respect for the teaching profession, Powell turns a deaf ear to educators who are overextended, underprotected, and yet still offering every bit of assistance they can. When an expectant couple in Stamford—immigrants who did not speak English—tested positive for coronavirus along with their school-age son, it was their son’s elementary school teacher, Luciana Lira, who took in the newborn while she continued to teach. As extraordinary as this sounds, it is one of thousands of everyday examples of the critical connections teachers make with their students and communities both in good times and in crisis.

A longtime critic of teachers, Powell has broadened his target, now directing his vitriol at school administrators as well as classroom teachers. Rather than acknowledge that his rants are the stuff of conspiracy theories, Powell tries to turn the tables charging that school administrators are conspiring against the public. Like all conspiracy theorists, he has a skewed view of the way things actually work.

Contrary to his outlandish assertions, nothing about the pandemic and the way schools operate under it is “normal.” While social distancing measures have been well-established in congregate settings that are allowed to reopen, and while teachers in at least half the states have already been vaccinated against COVID, Connecticut’s public school teachers find themselves without a vaccine, working in classrooms where even three feet of distance cannot reasonably be maintained, much less six. What they are asking for is the ability to teach their students in a safe environment: one with adequate PPE, testing/quarantining, and social distancing protocols in place. And as the push to prioritize full in-person learning continues, teachers must also be prioritized. We need to vaccinate teachers—now.

Powell, who continues to do his job remotely during the pandemic and has not been in a classroom since the 1960s, is ill-equipped to understand the needs and challenges of today’s teachers and schools, and unqualified to comment meaningfully on them.

Every Connecticut teacher recognizes that remote instruction is no substitute for in-person learning. But every Connecticut teacher also recognizes that school environments are only as good as they are safe—for students, staff, and their families.

Jeff Leake
CEA President