The Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, says the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting inequities in the state’s schools when it comes to funding, cleaning and protective equipment.
The CEA said it surveyed nearly 2,000 teachers and they shared experiences about a lack of funding and resources, shortages of personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and safety concerns like air ventilation. They said the problems are worse in the state's lowest-performing school districts.
“Our teachers shared their experiences regarding the lack of school funding; shortages of PPE, cleaning supplies, and learning resources; limited technology and access to the Internet; poor ventilation; and no plans to engage absent students,” CEA President Jeff Leake said in a statement. “These are all things needed to keep school communities safe and the staff in place to help students achieve. These issues are most severe in our lowest-performing school districts. We must demand changes in policies, programs, and practices that condone or ignore unequal justice and hinder student success.”
The state department of education responded writing in part, "Since last spring, the State of Connecticut has been working aggressively to address the educational emergency that is exacerbating inequities due to the ongoing pandemic. The state’s actions and investments in our students and educators demonstrate our continued commitment to ensuring equity and access by reducing barriers to learning while prioritizing the health and safety of our school communities."
CEA said air ventilation is a major problem in all schools, but it is more severe in Alliance Districts, with 78 percent of the teachers who participated saying their buildings and classrooms are not properly ventilated, compared with 66 percent of teachers in non-Alliance Districts.
Less than half of those teachers in Alliance Districts said their classrooms are cleaned and disinfected daily, compared with 64 percent of those teachers in non-Alliance Districts.
CEA said three-quarters – 75 percent of Alliance District teachers and 64 percent of teachers in other districts who took part are not confident that aggressive contact tracing measures are in place in their schools.
Nearly half – 48 percent -- of Alliance District teachers and 38 percent of non-Alliance District teachers said they are not provided with adequate PPE.
The state said it is providing the needed funding and resources.
"Governor Lamont provided Alliance Districts with more than half (56 percent or nearly $74 million) of the $130.8 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds distributed to CT districts to help offset costs associated with safely reopening schools, including building cleaning and materials, health, and PPE/masks students, educators and staff, and instructional support," the state board of education responded.
CEA is calling for long-term solutions.
"While we are in the midst of a pandemic and there is always more to be done, Connecticut students are attending school in-person (34%) at a higher percentage in comparison to neighboring states such as MA (4%), RI (25%), NY (18%) and NJ (10%)," the state's board of education response said. "We are proud of our district and school leaders’ efforts to prioritize equity and access, and implement mitigation strategies to allow for in-person learning."