HARTFORD, CT — Educators across Connecticut were nervous schools would open and districts immediately would start reporting COVID-19 cases. That’s exactly what happened.
Schools opened earlier this month and as soon as students returned to the classroom, districts started announcing a student or an educator tested positive for COVID-19. However, unions representing teachers and paraprofessionals said there’s no uniform way to handle both situations across school districts.
Some schools closed, some schools went to online learning, while others only sent certain classes home for isolation.
From Newington to Naugatuck, Waterbury to Glastonbury, and East Hartford to West Haven, varying degrees of action have been taken at each impacted building.
“One district is being handled in one way and another district handled in another ways,” Jeffrey Leake, Connecticut Education Association president, said Wednesday.
The State Department of Education said that’s not true.
“The unions’ notion that the state’s guidance is not clear is surprising given the fact that state officials, at a minimum, are meeting with the unions twice a week and the addenda that address these issues have been made publicly available starting over a month ago. CSDE and DPH staff have also been available every day to answer questions and provide district and local public health leaders with technical assistance and virtual training in this area,” the Education Department said in a statement.
The Education Department says the guidance they issued a month ago is “unambiguous.”
But each situation looks different because every school district is different.
“The diversity of each school district has meant that, even while following the state’s guidance, unique local considerations have led them to different conclusions. However, that’s where these decisions need to be made – at local level, where this information is being gathered,” the department added.
But teachers’ unions say the guidance isn’t specific enough.
“Our school districts need the state to provide a specific roadmap with tighter policies and protocols,” said Kristen Malloy-Scanlon, president of the West Haven Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1547. “Local administrators should not indiscriminately make decisions behind closed doors that affect the lives of so many. Parents must be part of the process and apprised as situations requiring action arise. Anything less is not just disrespectful, it’s downright dangerous.”
Leake said they also have teachers who are being told to self-quarantine using their sick time when some of the younger teachers don’t have that much time to use.
“It’s really a call out to the governor, I just wish he would stop emphasizing we have to get every child back to school five days a week,” Leake said.
The department says the comments are disappointing.
“It is clear that the recommended mitigation and monitoring strategies in place are working. We are seeing our students, educators, and school staff happy to return to school, wearing masks, and following protocols. The reopening of schools in a Connecticut with students is a success story thanks to the tremendous planning and collaboration that is happening at the district-level but unfortunately that success is not being reported nearly as much,” the department added.