HARTFORD – As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Connecticut and across the country, leaders of the Board of Education Union Coalition presented a petition signed by nearly 14,000 education and community members urging the state to take immediate steps to protect the health of students, staff and communities.
Speaking at a press conference held on the North Steps of the State Capitol, union leaders said they will share the petitions, which were signed by teachers, paraeducators, bus drivers and monitors, counselors, custodians, cafeteria workers, parents, community members and other education supporters, with Gov. Ned Lamont.
Union coalition leaders said the petitions reinforce the urgency of their months-long campaign for safe and healthy schools. They said the surging COVID-19 infection rate demands the establishment and enforcement of consistent statewide safety protocols, along with uniform transparency in reporting and responding to cases, for schools.
CSEA Paraeducator Council President
Cynthia Ross-Zweig spoke before the crowd.
Many of the 14,000 people who signed the petition also provided commentary from the front-lines of public education during a pandemic:
“My brother contracted COVID at an elementary school. He brought it to my elderly mother who died from it. I am heartbroken as well as terrified.”
Cos Cob: “We want schools open, but need consistent protocols and protections.”
Waterbury: “The disparity and lack of clarity around COVID response in school districts right now is completely unacceptable.” -Waterbury
New Milford: “Transparency is important and contact tracing is important and neither is happening in my school.” –New Milford
Northford: “We matter. Our students matter. Our families matter. Protect us.” Northford
Branford: “You need to set a state standard so ALL can be safe and still learn.” Branford
Mansfield: “With the timing of cold weather and windows being closed, more students being brought into our buildings, gatherings and travel of families during the holiday season, lack of social distancing, and the rapid rise in Covid cases, this feels like a perfect storm. I am in agreement that if testing can’t happen, and other appropriate protocols followed, then schools should go remote until after the holidays to at least eliminate some of the risk to staff and students right now.”
Manchester: “With the return to full time in person learning, the social distancing has been much more difficult to manage given the increase in numbers. Also, the schools are not being cleaned and sanitized as initially promised.”
Old Saybrook:“We have done a wonderful job keeping students in school through the Thanksgiving holiday, however as the numbers increase and towns are moving into the red zone, it is imperative that we take greater measures to keep students, staff, and our families safe.”
Ellington: “With groups of 20-25 people in a room at the same time, social distancing cannot be accommodated. I want to work- but I want to work safely. Please support the health of students, educators, paraprofessionals, and all other staff by mandating that schools adhere to protocols that keep us safe.”
Ridgefield: “We keep hearing about how safe the schools are yet we’ve had multiple COVID positive cases in the district and are seeing those cases increase every week. Furthermore, protocols for testing and quarantining have been unevenly applied and students are returning to school after a long weekend with large family gatherings, putting their classmates and teachers at risk. I do not feel safe in my building.”
The Board of Education Union Coalition represents unionized public education employees across the state and includes members of CEA, AFTCT, SEBAC, CSEA, CEUI, MEUI, AFSCME, and UAW.
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Map of CT reflecting hometowns of initial 14,000+ signers: https://bit.ly/BoEmap
Board of Education Union Coalition’s “Protect Students, Teachers, and School Staff” petition: https://bit.ly/SafeSchoolsNowPetition
Board of Education Union Coalition’s “Safe and Successful Schools Now” report: http://aftct.org/sites/aftct.org/files/boe_unions_cltn_sf_schls_report.pdf
CSEA Paraeducators Testify
CSEA paraeducators testified at a public hearing on an interim study of paraeducator staffing levels in late September. The program review (PRI) committee approved the study of school paraeducator staffing in May of 2014 following intensive lobbying efforts by CSEA and other unions representing paras to form a task force on these same issues. Our union and others have raised the issue that districts are assigning school paraeducators in ways that render paras unable to effectively perform their core duties, including those that are required by special education students’ individualized education plans.
Cille Grabert, para educator in the New FairfieldSchool District testified. “When I was assigned to three students in a first grade class, my job was to keep them on task, have them complete an assignment, and monitor their behavior. The teacher told me that all of the students had to produce something to complete their assignments. It was very challenging because each had different learning issues and learning styles. One student would break every pencil that I gave him and act out, another student was extremely shy and had difficulties with reading, and the last student had problems with writing and spelling. Many elementary paraeducators experience similar situations everyday assisting in the classroom, and without the necessary training to address the needs of our students we can’t serve them nearly as well as we could. We need the proper tools to do the job; we need access to professional development.”
The report’s findings so far:
There is no one definition of school paraprofessional, or para. Various definitions and titles exist, depending on federal and state law and regulation, and local district policies, job descriptions, and contracts.
Connecticut State Department of Education collects data on the numbers of FTE non-certified instructional staff (NCIS) in all districts. The categories of NCIS include those assigned to: special education; Pre-K and kindergarten; library/media; ESL/Bilingual; and regular education.
The data indicate that there are a total of 14,450 NCIS working in the districts in 2013, an increase of about 13 percent from 2003, but a decrease of 2 percent from the 14,741 employed in 2010.
Most of the increase in NCIS has been in special education, where the number of FTEs has risen about 30 percent, from 7,319 in 2003 to 9,562 in 2013. At the same, the number of paras assigned to other areas and regular education has decreased by about 20 percent.
Since 2004, there has also been an increase in the number of special education teachers (5 percent), while the numbers of special education students has declined by about 3,350 (5 percent). Thus, the ratio of special education students to both special education teachers and special education paraprofessionals has decreased over a similar period – in the case of teachers from 8:1 in 2004 to 6:1 in 2013, in the case of paras, from 5:1 to 4:1.
Results from a recent survey of paras conducted by UConn’s UniversityCenter for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities indicate that 54percent of paras responding had been working for 10+ years; 41 percent had a BA or higher, while 16 percent had only a high school or equivalency diploma.
In the vast majority of school districts, paras are unionized, with various unions representing paras.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Connecticut teaching assistants (including paras) are paid an annual average salary of $29,230, about $5,000 more than the national average. The average para salary is about 42 percent of the $68,580 salary of an elementary general education teacher and 41 percent of the $71,810 paid to a special education teacher.
The study will now conduct a survey of school districts’ human resources and special education departments will seek data about: actual numbers of full- and part-time NCIS, their job titles, the students and/or classrooms they support; and numbers and types of grievances raised, injuries reported, and workers’ compensation cases filed. Further data analysis will focus on contract provisions, job descriptions, and school and district staffing patterns. The final report is expected to be released after the legislature returns in January, at which time we can expect there to be additional public hearings. CSEA members will be ready testify at public hearings following the release of the final report. Stay tuned…
Paid for by CSEA SEIU Local 2001. This message was made independent of any candidate or political party. More information about CSEA SEIU Local 2001 may be found on the state elections commission internet website.
April 3rd is Paraprofessional Appreciation Day, and this year we received an official proclamation from Governor Malloy thanking us for our hard work. The first Wednesday of each April has been set aside to show appreciation for paraprofessionals providing service in multiple educational settings to assist our students so they can be successful. CSEA wishes to join in thanking our Paraprofessionals: Your contributions are so important that one day of appreciation a year is certainly not enough.