Several unions representing teachers and public education workers are calling for schools to move to remote learning after Thanksgiving until additional safety measures, including testing of students, can be put into place.
In a report released by the Board of Education Union Coalition, whose members represent more than 60,000 public education workers across the state, union leaders called for more robust safety measures in schools and statewide protocols to streamline the process.
Those safety measures include the testing of students, whether they are experiencing symptoms or not. Leaders also want statewide protocols for reporting of COVID-19 cases, contact tracing, social distancing, testing, and PPE availability.
While the state did outline some guidance and requirements for districts to reopen in the fall, specific protocols and details of how to achieve those requirements were left to districts. This means different districts have different protocols for how to notify the school community of a potential COVID-19 exposure, different methods of contact tracing, and so on.
State officials, including Gov. Ned Lamont, have said that there has not been sustained transmission of the coronavirus in schools, and have urged districts to keep in-person learning available as long as possible.
Union leaders, in the report, disputed claims that schools are safe.
"Statements such as "schools are the safest place to be" are not accurate," the report reads. "To date, there has not been adequate testing of students and staff to determine the spread and scope of COVID-19 infections within Connecticut schools."
Last week state data showed a significant increase in COVID-19 cases among students. Some districts have been forced to move remote due to staffing concerns brought on by coronavirus quarantines.
The report suggests districts should consider proactively moving to remote learning, contrary to what the state has urged, and also pushed for schools to move fully remote starting after Thanksgiving through at least January 18 to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus during a time that traditionally sees a lot of large gatherings and travel.
The Connecticut State Department of Education released a response to the report Monday, saying that Connecticut has been "extremely successful" getting students back in the classroom.
"With the health and safety of our school communities always being our top priority, we are reinforcing the importance of in-person learning because it is the model that allows us to best meet our children’s educational and nonacademic needs. CT DPH and our department have been closely monitoring the community spread of COVID-19 with the data indicating that the mitigation strategies in place (masks, cleaning and hygiene, ventilation, cohorting, etc.) have been incredibly effective since we are not seeing sustained person-to-person transmission or outbreaks in our schools. This is true even as we are seeing increased levels of COVID-19 in the community," their statement read.
State officials added that they believe decisions about limiting in-person learning should be made at the local level, and that they are available daily to consult with school districts, health departments and medical advisors on those types of decisions.