NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk educators joined in a statewide protest Thursday, lining up more than 50 cars in a caravan here to press for State financial support in reopening of the public schools.
“We are looking forward to starting a new school year but not looking forward to doing so in a way that is high-risk. The State and Federal government must provide equitable funding so that districts like ours can re-open with science-based measures, in place and not just on paper, things like 6-foot distancing, appropriate PPE, frequent cleaning and disinfecting, and adequate staffing and training,” Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon said at Brien McMahon High School.
Video by Harold F. Cobin at end of story
The Connecticut Education Association (CEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Connecticut organized the “School Safety First” caravans in 25 Connecticut communities, according to the Connecticut Mirror. The Norwalk Federation of Retirees, Norwalk Federation of Educational Personnel, Norwalk Association of School Administrators, and UPSEU Custodians joined the certified teachers at Brien McMahon, Yordon said.
Jefferson fifth grade teacher Jeff Beckley, Ed. D., found himself in the “pole” position, leading the caravan, he said after the event. “Teachers are not test subjects” was written on one of the vehicle’s windows.
Doctors are donning three levels of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to deal with the public but teachers are expected to return to in-person instruction with a “glorified sock” over their face, said Beckely, NFT building steward for Jefferson.
“I think what you’re seeing from the staff of the Norwalk schools, from the administrators, the teachers and the paraprofessionals union, and perhaps others that were there that didn’t happen to see, is a unified front,” he said. “…Obviously, teachers are stressed out about it, and I think administrators stressed out about it too. I think nobody, nobody wants to come down with the coronavirus if they can avoid it.”
The funding deficit is not Norwalk’s fault, it’s a state and national problem, he said.
“If you’re going to put us back in harm’s way to get the economy going again, do all these things, you have to make sure that you fund it correctly because if you do it the wrong way or you cut corners, the consequence is loss of life. If you do survive the coronavirus, you catch it, and you have long term health effects… the risks are great,” Beckley said.
Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont said the style of reopening is up to individual school districts. On Thursday, he pressured school districts to return to in-person learning, while acknowledging that he probably has no legal power to make that happen.
Wednesday, Norwalk Public Schools unveiled a plan to have half its school children attending school in person daily, taking turns using the buildings. This means more teachers and more costs, Beckley said.
“To properly prioritize health and safety will require resources. Our city leaders led by Mayor Rilling, Mr. Burnett, and Ms. Smyth, have worked hard and made sacrifices to redirect funds to support our schools in this year’s budget,” Yordon’s statement said. “We have a committed Board and a capable engaged Superintendent. Employees across the bargaining units have devoted many unpaid hours to planning for the re-open. But we need help from Governor Lamont. There are extra personnel costs, extra classroom materials needed, and facilities changes required.”
Beckley said teachers are having a good dialogue with Central Office and “having the ability to be heard is something that is refreshing,” he said. He has talked with many teachers who attended Wednesday’s town hall with Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella and “I think we’ve been pleasantly surprised… I find it to be refreshing that the superintendent is being very transparent about everything, even when she doesn’t have the answer.”
Yordon said she agrees.
“While the education of the students is, and has been, our top priority, it simply cannot come at the expense of human lives,” Yordon’s statement said. “The new normal we seek to create calls for adequate cleaning supplies, proper air filtration, and reduced class size to ensure proper social distancing and an increase in proper training to better deliver instruction across my differs platforms including virtual and in person.”
Beckley said, “We shouldn’t have to fight for people to do what’s right.”