Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella has announced changes to the district’s COVID-19 policies, which include requiring non-quarantined staff members to work in district buildings when the student body has shifted to remote learning. NancyOnNorwalk asked Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon for her thoughts; this is her response.
If schools must remain open, and very clearly state and local school leaders feel that they do, then NFT members can be required to report to school. We don’t get to choose. Leaders are intent on increasing the number of individuals in the buildings during outbreaks that previously would have resulted in closures and remote teaching. We are creating an environment of increased risk at a time of the highest infection rates so far. We are gambling with an important asset: the well-being of the employees of the district. The motivation to better serve the most impacted students makes sense, but this strategy has been tried in other districts without success.
The NFT emphasis here locally at this point is on serving students while reducing risks to avoid quarantines and illness. We have asked the district for scrupulous adherence to risk-reduction strategies that benefit staff and students alike. We will need leadership to reduce the occurrence of in-person meetings, and analyze incidents of illness. We have asked for better communication about exposures and infections, meaningful examination of exposures, and adjustments when lapses are revealed through exposures. We have asked why we are still using interior windowless classrooms for classes with relatively more students, and larger well-ventilated classrooms for those with very few or no students. After seeing so many of our colleagues quarantined and sick, and bringing illness back home to our families, we are distressed to see so little acknowledgement of school-transmitted COVID already suffered by members of the school community. With this new model, more must be done to keep us safe.
We have been advocating at the state level for rigorous enforced safety standards because this is a state-wide challenge. We are asking state leaders for better communication about school exposures, and for more support for quarantined individuals. If you get sick at work, you should not have to use your sick pay to get a full paycheck. We should have remote teaching opportunities for those with quarantined and sick family members, which Norwalk does not provide. Experts say that risk reduction means wearing masks, proper cleaning and disinfection, reducing proximity to other people, good ventilation, quick identification and removal of sick people from schools, careful hygiene, and cohorting. If those elements are not properly in place, we should not be in school.