Push has now come to shove within the Lamont administration. Governor Ned Lamont has ordered superintendents across the state to open public schools in the fall. Teachers unions have presented the administration with several “requests” that bear all the earmarks of non-negotiable demands.
A CTMirror piece, “The governor says it’s safe to reopen schools, but will teachers return?” ticks off some of the union demands: 1) teachers who must miss work owing to Coronavirus and who cannot work remotely will receive full pay and cannot be required to use vacation or leave time available to them; 2) classroom size must conform to CDC and state regulations. This requirement will force superintendents to put on more teachers, a costly prospect; 3) someone, likely school districts -- municipalities having become the trap gates of General Assembly detritus -- must provide teachers working remotely with a $50 per week allowance to cover costs; 3) Teachers, who apparently have problems walking and chewing gum at the same time, will not be required in the same workday to be responsible for students who are at school and those who are learning remotely, again a costly provision that would seem to necessitate the hiring of more teachers; live synchronous or concurrent instruction, a cost saving measure, will not be permitted; all personal protective equipment will be supplied by the district.
The Connecticut Education Association (CEA) has also requested that all adults and children in the educational system, 630,000 strong, be tested for Coronavirus – EACH WEEK. “Since the pandemic began,” an astonished reporter for CTMirror notes, “Connecticut has administered a TOTAL of 660,857 tests for COVID-19.” Satisfying this demand alone, the reporter notes, “would be a Herculean and expensive task,” a considerable understatement.
Some teachers believe it is not safe to open schools. President of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Jan Hochadel favors a graduated reopening, a hybrid combination of on-site and remote learning. “It’s concerning us,” she said “that every other part of society, they’re applauding this slow reopening and taking it in phases, and yet we’re not going to do that with education. It’s really disconcerting for us. We want to work together, but we also know that if we have to step away and do what we have to do for the health and safety of our members, we’re ready to do that, too.”
One detects in that last sentence an iron fist in a velvet glove; does “stepping away” and doing “what we have to do for the health and safety of our members” indicate a work stoppage or disabling appeals before binding arbitration boards that may defer Lamont’s fall opening plans well beyond the fall?
“Former Waterbury teacher and U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th district,” CTMirror notes, appears to be in sync with the AFT President on broad issues. Hayes, who appears to be finding it difficult to make the transition from teacher to Congresswoman, “said Tuesday during a press call with the chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor that it’s not safe to reopen schools. ‘We are not ready to do that at this moment. As of today, there are so many unanswered questions,’ she said.”
Not everyone, of course, has applauded the demands of teacher union heads. Attorney Thomas Mooney, a specialist in education who works for a firm, Shipman & Goodwin, that represents two thirds of school districts in Connecticut, puts his case bluntly. Allowing teachers to choose whether or not they wish to teach eviscerates all present protocols. “We can’t just consign the fate of children to the individual choices of teachers,” Mooney reasonably points out. “It’s going to be a matter of what’s safe and what’s healthy, but we have certain overarching legal responsibilities to educate children, and people take employment to do that.”
Everyone, including unions, knows that the demands presented above simply price education out of the present market. The so called “reforms” presented by unions to tax gatherers are impossible rather than unreasonable or unrealistic. The political responses to the Coronavirus epidemic, already on the wane in Connecticut, has resulted in diminished tax returns and the promise of yet another agonizing 10-year state recession. For the last 20 years, Connecticut has not been dealing from a full economic deck, and perhaps someone should direct Hayes to recent studies from Germany and Great Britain that paint a less dour picture of school re-openings, particularly in the case of students younger than 11 or 12. The incidents of serious Coronavirus infection among this group is near zero, Science Magazine reports: “Children younger than 11 or 12, on the other hand, “'probably don’t transmit very well. They are close to each other in schools, but that is not enough' to fuel spread.”
We know that the closing of businesses and schools severely impacts education, health and welfare, and Connecticut's foundering economy. A rational politics would seek to achieve a “Golden Means” balance between the public interests and selfish, partisan, political interests. State union leaders seem uninterested in striking such a balance. Union leaders want what they’ve always wanted – MORE – more money, more power, and an outsized place at the political table.