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NPS is gambling with an important asset: its employees’ well-being

Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon.

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.

3 comments

Steve January 10, 2021 at 3:00 pm

If parents want kids in school, the Superintendent wants everyone in school and the Governor does likewise, then the Governor should stop hedging and make the same executive order for teachers as he did for essential workers back in Spring – a presumption for Worker’s Comp purposes that if a staff member gets sick they are covered until Worker’s Compensation. Superintendent Estrella should announce that she too has staff members backs and regardless of what the Governor does, the school will support Disability, Sick and Death benefits to any staff member who gets Covid.In the Fall, the schools said that if the general population Covid incidence rate went over 25 per 100k they go all remote…we’ve more than doubled that.

DrewT January 11, 2021 at 8:24 am

Yadda, Yadda Mary. It’s funny how you come out with this statement when you would support additional safety measures I was calling for when we were on the Re-Opening committee. I received absolutely ZERO SUPPORT when I called for every kid and and faculty member be tested before entering the building. Also I called for any Student that wanted to go and stay remote needed to apply 2 weeks before either the quarter or marketing period. And you sat there and remained SILENT!! But now you’re concerned because there’s an opportunity for you now for some cheap PR. These kids are suffering badly! And we have a group that wants to full time so we need to let them. And maybe we will have 5 kids in a class instead of 1. There are plenty of safety measures in place and the infection rates are low. So get off your Hugh horse and take the kids into consideration for once. We are all
Making difficult choices with this Pandemic. It’s something we will need to live with. But we are doing the right things and staying safe as much as possible. We have a vaccine and getting on with our lives and soon we will have sports again! So get on board with the program and be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Had enough January 11, 2021 at 8:44 pm

Drew, we began the school year with the 2 week notice rule but that was taken away not sure if it was Central Office or State.
The safety measures that were discussed prior to school opening have fallen to the wayside, those that even were put in place. Not everything that was outlined was actually put in place, maybe that varies by building
Teachers are not saying they don’t want to come to school, they are saying they need the proper protection. We are only 1 week back from the break and there are many people quarantined. Schools may be open but make no mistake COVID is in the schools.
Maybe Middle School and High school have 5 students in a class but there are elementary classes with 20+ students, every day.
As far as vaccines, teachers aren’t even able to make an appointment yet, so no we don’t have a vaccine that will do us any good in the here and now. The here and now that has Norwalk’s numbers climbing, increasing cases in the schools and more people in classrooms.

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