Using their teacher voices, dozens of educators stood on the steps of the State Capitol Wednesday calling on officials to keep all school buildings closed this fall.
Calling the current reopening plan “dangerous,, the teachers said the state should focus funding towards online learning, and not allow students back into the classroom until there is a vaccine.
“This is our time to reinvent public education,” said Elizabeth Trojanowski, a library media specialist in East Hartford.
As we get closer to the first day of school, opposition to returning to the classroom is getting louder.
“Kids are not lab rats and teachers are not martyrs,” said Dr. Valterie Horsley, of Hamden.
With just weeks to go before the start of school, teachers across the state are sounding the alarm.
“I did not come here to hurt anyone. I did not stay in this profession to now compromise my beliefs and values for some arrangement that sits diametrically opposed to what I should be representing,” said Rose Reyes, a Windham elementary school teacher, in an impassioned speech.
The teachers said they think the state is putting too many dollars toward reopening classrooms and not enough toward remote learning.
“What teachers are really looking for right now is investment in high quality and professional development so we can provide high-quality long-distance learning because we know we’ll eventually be making that transition this fall and it can’t be another emergency transition just like it was this spring,” said Nicole Rizzo, a second grade teacher and member of Connecticut Public Schools Advocates.
Rob Blanchard, a spokesperson for Gov. Ned Lamont pointed out that last spring 176,000 Connecticut students did not log on for a single day of distanced learning.
“Although we’ve since taken significant steps to equip students to learn from home, we also know that nothing compares to safe, high-quality, in-person education with the nation’s best teachers and other education professionals,” said Blanchard.
“We were in a global pandemic in the spring, we still are in a global pandemic, that was an emergency transition to online learning and we did a heck of a job,” countered Leslie Baltteau, a teacher in New Haven.
An art installation crafted by some of the protestors on the lawn of the State Capitol was said to represent the number of students and staff that they think could die if the state continues to push in-person learning.
“Currently, the governor has set the limit to close schools at a 10 percent infection rate and at that rate, 200 lives could be lost if schools are reopened,” said Rizzo.
LaShawn Robinson said her five children will not be returning to their classrooms this fall.
“You could call me from work to tell me to come get my kids because they don’t have a flu shot? That they can’t come back to school without a flu shot. How are we gonna send our kids back into a burning building, and other families, teachers, and staff into a burning building and we’re not prepared yet? Like Connecticut, we must do more,” she said.
“I think until there’s a vaccine, we can’t promise parents that we are gonna keep their kids safe,” said Melissa Mirisola, a middle school band teacher in Cheshire.
“Until we have a vaccine, there is no in-person school. That’s it,” added Horsley.
To critics who point out that they’ve had to return to work or work through the pandemic Rizzo responded, “would you go into an office building with a thousand other people? That’s not what we’re asking the public to do.”
Some said they wanted a safer approach to return to their classrooms.
“I think with weekly testing we could identify those that do get the virus and be able to deal with them. Right now, we’re all going to be going and we’re not going to know whose infected and whose not until someone gets sick,” said Richard Szulczewski, who also teaches band to Cheshire middle schoolers.
According to the Connecticut Department of Education, as of August 11, 82 districts out of 199 districts, or 41 percent planned to combine in-person instruction with long-distance learning. Peter Yazbak, a spokesperson for Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona, cautioned that those numbers will likely change as districts finalize their plans in the next two weeks.
“Safety is and always will be our top priority. Each and every single decision that is made in regard to reopening schools is being done through the lens of public health and driven by science and data,” said Yazbak.
Some believe hybrid learning is neither safe nor practical.
“When you throw in a couple of Mondays off as it is in September, the whole schedule goes awry. It’s no longer consistent. Group A is no longer Monday and Tuesday. The whole thing gets thrown off,” said Trojanowski.
They're calling for childcare subsidies so that parents can continue to work while their student learns remotely. Though Trojanowksi pointed out that teachers don't have that luxury.
“You can’t work from home even if you’re distance learning or distance teaching. You have to be in the building.”
“School administrators are holding teachers hostage. You can’t work from home even if you’re distance learning or distance teaching. You have to be in the building,” she said.
Despite the multi-billion dollar deficit facing the state, advocates said Connecticut has to find the funds.
“These are children’s lives on the line,” said Rizzo.
About 50 educators turned out for the rally. Organizers blamed the low turnout on the fear that they say so many teachers have about speaking out on this issue.