HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Some unionized Connecticut educators wore black to work Wednesday to draw attention to their demands for more rapid test kits in schools and flexibility in allowing for short-term remote learning during outbreaks.
Others wore red, saying they oppose the idea of going back to any online teaching and would like to see an easing of some COVID-19 protocols.
The wearing black demonstration was organized by a coalition of education labor groups, who asserted that a majority of their 60,000 members were unable to access testing or masks upon returning to school from the holiday break Jan. 3.
“I had schools that opened this week and still didn’t have masks, and that’s problematic,” Kate Dias, president of Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, said in a statement.
The unions held rallies outside of some schools Wednesday morning as children arrived.
“I would like to see more cleaning and safety materials provided, you know, to clean the desks in between students,” Alys Cross, a Windsor High School Teacher, told NBC Connecticut during a demonstration outside that school.
But Ellington High School history teacher Aaron Hoffman said he and the others wearing red believe remote learning does more to harm students than the virus.
“They are disengaged, depressed, and have excessive anxiety,” he said.
Staff shortages have led to short term closures of schools in several districts, which prompted Gov. Ned Lamont to issue an executive order Tuesday, making it easier for retired teachers to come back into the classroom.
The order relaxes statutory salary and staffing restrictions the governor’s office said prevented some former educators from coming out of retirement.
“This executive order is a critical step to providing much-needed resources to ensure we keep students in the classroom and provide them with an in-person education,” Lamont said in the statement.
Lamont said Wednesday that the state has distributed more than a million tests and “many millions” of mask to schools and is working to ensure more test kits and masks are sent to districts as soon as those supplies become available.
“So, I’d like to think that overwhelmingly they’ve gotten all the local schools as needed,” Lamont said. “If there are few outliers out there, give a call and I’ll drive there myself.”
The governor, who noted that his emergency powers are set to expire in about 30 days, also said the state is giving “some accommodations” now for remote learning when there’s been an outbreak in a school or someone has a pre-existing condition. However, he reiterated Wednesday that he feels strongly that “every kid goes to school and there’s not a mix and a match and a hybrid and a back and forth.”
“That didn’t work I think a year-and-a-half ago, two years ago, and I’m doing everything I can to avoid it, make sure that our kids don’t lose schooling, there’s nothing better than a great teacher in a classroom and that’s what we’re going to try to continue.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said while he agrees in-person learning is preferred, he said suggested legislators might look into possibly “building flexibility” into the state’s 180-day school calendar to accommodate short periods of remote learning.
“These are obviously things we’ll look at” when the General Assembly convenes, beginning Feb. 9, he said.
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