CONNECTICUT — The bad dreams often end with a student or loved one becoming dangerously ill, or worse. Teachers are tormented by nightmares, union representatives say, about an unsafe return to classrooms.
“My own nightmare is the one where I am looking down on one of my 11-year-old students who have become unraveled hearing the news of my death," Darien teacher and Connecticut Education Association board member Katy Gale said. "I can’t console my student."
Gale spoke during a news conference Monday where front-line public school staffers, from bus drivers to secretaries and nurses to teachers, outlined a set of "non-negotiable" requirements they believe will help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
During the virtual media event on Zoom, paraprofessionals, custodians, bus drivers, nurses, administrative staff and teachers from six local unions shared their concerns regarding safety and the need to implement the standards to keep everyone safe. Watch the Zoom event.
Teachers and school staff said all school districts must comply with 13 requirements.
"Teachers want more than anything to get back into the classroom, but reopening plans must be done safely and cautiously to prevent outbreaks of the virus in our school communities," Gale said.
"We need to make sure our district and state officials understand that nothing is more important than the safety of our school communities," said CEA President Jeff Leake. “As we anticipate the resurgence of COVID-19 here in Connecticut, CEA stands in full support with other unions, parents, and educators who oppose school buildings opening before they are safe.”
A coalition of unions — AFT Connecticut, the CEA, Connecticut Employees Union Independent, SEIU Local 511, Council 4 AFSCME, CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 and UAW Region 9-A — representing more than 60,000 school staff across the state, released the 13 standards that align with the recommendations in CEA’s Safe Learning Plan, released last week, to "ensure safety, equity, and adequate funding for all Connecticut’s school districts."
"We know we can’t put hundreds of students into small, crowded classrooms with poor ventilation and without adequate safety procedures in place to prevent an outbreak and school closures, but that’s exactly what many districts will be doing," Gale said. "We have to get this right. We must reopen safely."
In a news release after the virtual event, union organizers said, "Reopening schools poses unprecedented challenges, and how they are addressed varies from district to district. The 13 standards and CEA’s recommendations outline what schools need to do to prepare for safe reopening and how they can make sure schools don’t become incubators for COVID-19 and can remain open beyond just the first few weeks of the new school year."
The coalition says in-person classes should only occur "if districts can guarantee that physical safety protocols can be met to keep students, teachers, and staff safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19."
Happening now: activists publicly announce 13 core principles adopted by BOE #union coalition rep'ing 60K+ #PublicEd staff to assure safe #BackToSchool season. #ReopenSafely @AFTUnion @AFTTeach @PSRP_AFT @NEAToday @CEANews @AFSCME @AFSCMECT4 @SEIU @CEUI_SEIU_511 @CSEA_CT @Zoom_US pic.twitter.com/BFbV4kKA4E
— AFT Connecticut (@AFTCT) August 24, 2020
The unions' 13 standards, or 'Core Principles Regarding the Safe Reopening of School Buildings'
1. No school may open unless the district has a joint labor/management committee
(specific to the COVID-19 crisis), including representatives appointed by each labor organization in the district.
2. Masks will be required of all students regardless of grade level and if not, then full PPE and additional distancing; face shields and other medical grade PPE will be worn by staff/students who are unable to practice physical distancing where close contact is highly likely, such as those students and staff who provide or receive services like OT/PT and speech. Gloves (non-latex) and gowns will be worn when contact with bodily fluids or other potentially infectious material can be reasonably anticipated.
3. Students and staff must maintain a distance of six feet at all times except where impossible due to specific individual student needs. In all cases where six feet cannot be maintained because of these exclusions, appropriate medical grade PPE must be provided.
4. All Centers for Disease Control, Department of Labor Occupational Health and
Safety Administration and Department of Public Health guidelines must be followed at all times by all schools, including, but not limited to, cleaning and disinfecting supplies and protocols and PPE. COVID-effective hand sanitizers must be available in all common areas.
5. There shall be no reprisals taken by district administrators or any vendor against anyone who raises a health and safety concern or makes a complaint to their supervisor or any outside agency regarding workplace safety.
6. Fire code-compliant partitions shall be required in common work areas and between secretarial/administrative staff and students or parents.
7. In addition to strict social distancing, and following all CDC and DPH guidelines, all food service must comply with restaurant COVID-19 protocols.
8. Schools must utilize the recommended air filters and/or ultraviolet light technology.
Schools are recommended to utilize outdoor settings to the extent possible. Safe minimum and maximum heat index standards must be maintained and HVAC and air quality report and/or progress should be shared with labor organizations at a minimum each month or as defined in the joint labor/management committee.
9. In-person learning shall not commence until there has been proper training for all staff, including permanent, temporary and substitutes on safety protocols related to COVID-19.
10. Parents and union leaders shall be informed in any instance of a student or staff member testing positive for COVID-19. Aggressive contact tracing measures shall be implemented. Anyone deemed to have been possibly exposed must quarantine for 14 days.
11. School facilities shall not be used by outside organizations and job classifications that require movement between school buildings shall be kept to a minimum and a topic of discussion for the joint labor/management committee.
12. Only trained healthcare workers may be required to administer COVID-related healthcare to students or to medically assess a student.
13. The school district shall require by contract the following from any student transportation provider or if providing bus transportation directly, shall assure:
In addition to the bus driver, every bus must be occupied by an employee, such as a bus monitor, who will enforce all health and safety requirements.
Student seating must adhere to the following restrictions: No more than one student may be seated in a single row, unless they reside in the same household. And students will be seated in a diagonal formation, in which students alternate sitting on the right and left side of the bus.
'Protocols are rooted in medical studies and scientific research'
The union coalition said these "protocols are rooted in medical studies and scientific research and follow critical new medical reports and scientific findings regarding the spread of COVID-19, particularly as to school-age children," adding, "Research shows children of all ages can contract and spread the virus to adults and other children, becoming superspreaders of COVID-19."
Leake said the "top priority is the safety and well-being of students, educators, and their families."
The unions urge districts to open schools the right way — and not risk reversing the progress Connecticut has made in controlling the spread of the virus, the release said.
"Schools must be safe, guided by science, and aligned with the safety protocols established by the unions," he said. "Any schools unable to fulfill CDC protocols, including six-foot social distancing, contact tracing, testing, and more, should do distance learning."
Patch contacted two union spokespersons for comment on what response has been received from individual school districts, if any.