As schools continue to report COVID-19 cases among staff and students, with some closing and others remaining open, a coalition of Connecticut’s teacher and paraprofessional unions asked the state Wednesday to mandate how such situations should be handled at the local level.
“While we understand each school district is unique, the state must provide specific protocols that districts must follow when someone tests positive for the virus, including providing detailed information to parents and teachers,” Jeff Leake, president of the Connecticut Education Association, said in a written statement Wednesday. “The absence of consistent guidelines and adherence to protocols is evident in many districts, as is a lack of quality PPE and CDC-approved disinfecting and cleaning supplies. Without state mandates, transparency, and open communication, districts are jeopardizing the health and safety of entire school communities.”
Since the school year began, more than a dozen public schools in Connecticut have temporarily shut down because of COVID-19 cases. A number of schools have reported positive cases but decided to remain open, asking specific cohorts or classrooms to quarantine.
While the state officials have provided recommendations and guidelines for reopening schools, so far, they have refused to create mandates on those issues, citing the individual nature of each district and the unique circumstances of every case. For the most part, local health officials and school administrators are left to decide when to close schools.
Still, Gov. Ned Lamont has repeatedly stated that schools — particularly at the elementary level — should not shut down because of a single case.
“I think it’s worth remembering that of all the schools that have been opened, some full-time, some part-time ... we’ve had 32 infections,” Lamont said earlier this week. “That’s 32 out of six or seven hundred thousand students and teachers and administrators so ... it’s a much lower positivity rate than we’re used to seeing in the general population right now.”
Lamont added there was “some confusion, but generally that means a class is being quarantined if there happens to be an infection. Maybe there have been 10 or 12 buildings [that have closed] out of all of the buildings across our whole school system, so I feel pretty good about where we’ve gone in the last two-plus weeks of K-12 education.”
But some school administrators and local health officials say they must close for at least day or two in order to effectively conduct contact tracing. Other districts point to earlier guidelines released by the state that included Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to close schools for 2-5 days in the event of a positive case. Several superintendents have voiced concerns about a lack of clarity in state guideline and consistency among districts, a sentiment echoed in the unions' statement.
“Our school districts need the state to provide a specific roadmap with tighter policies and protocols,” said Kristen Malloy-Scanlon, an elementary school teacher in West Haven, so also serves as president of the West Haven Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1547.
Malloy-Scanlon also asked that parents be more involved in the process of handling positive COVID-19 cases, noting, “Local administrators should not indiscriminately make decisions behind closed doors that affect the lives of so many."
In late August, the Connecticut Education Association and other members of the Board of Education Union Coalition warned some districts were not following health and safety protocols. Among the 13 “non-negotiable” core standards they asked state and district officials to implement was a request that parents and union leaders be informed if any staff members or students test positive for the virus, aggressive contact tracing measures be implemented, and anyone deemed to have been possibly exposed quarantine for 14 days.
According to the state Department of Education, districts are already expected to communicate this information to their school communities. The department said, per CDC guidelines, if any person who has been present in school has a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, the local health department must be notified immediately, and districts should be ready to comply with requests for information and to assist with contact tracing.
If educators and staff members have to quarantine due to potential exposure to the virus, Leake asked that they be allowed to provide distanced learning to students or receive paid quarantine leave.
The Connecticut Education Association, Connecticut’s largest teachers union, had previously called for a two week delay in reopening schools so educators would have time to improve remote learning. In a plan published as an alternative to the state’s guidelines, the union also called for weekly testing among staff and students.
Amanda Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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