HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) -- Connecticut is committed to reopening schools full-time, five days a week.

It’s is one of the biggest coronavirus controversies emerging in the state.

The Connecticut Education Association (CEA) released a survey on Tuesday that shows there is a lot of fear among those in charge of teaching children.

On Monday, the state’s survey showed 81 percent of teachers expected they’d be back in classrooms.

The CEA survey of unionized teachers finds that when given a choice between in classroom, online or a mix of both, in classroom was last with 16 percent, and 46 percent wanted to go online.

Read the complete survey here.

“In schools, we’ve basically said, ‘open the doors and go’,” said Kate Dias, a math teacher at Manchester High School.

That’s the reality teachers said they are facing when they head back to schools later next month.

“We haven’t said that with malls, we haven’t said that with movie theaters, restaurants or bars,” Dias said. “What we’re looking for is the same level of respect that every other industry has been given.”

She’s not the only teacher who is expressing real concern about going back.

“There’s so much unknown at this point and that trickles down and it’s no different in our profession,” said Lynn Rice Scozzafava, an English teacher at Litchfield High School.

“Are we really doing what’s safe, or are we just doing it because we want kids back,” asked Suffield High math teacher Mark Janick.

The survey shows 74 percent oppose Gov. Ned Lamont’s plan to fully reopen, and 77 percent are uncomfortable with returning to school, and a lot of that has to do with the lack of social distancing.

“Grocery store, gas station, six feet, six feet and the schools plan doesn’t say six feet. It says as best you could. That’s scary for a lot of teachers,” Janick said.

In fact, Dias went to her school to measure it out. If every student return, she says there’d be problems.

“We were looking at classrooms and there’s no way to feasibly socially distance with classes of 20. The best we could ever get to would be kids would be four feet apart as long as they always sat at their desks. The teacher could get six feet of distance from the student as long as they stood up right next to the white board,” Dias said.

Since the plan to return to schools was unveiled, Lamont pointed to the state’s low infection rate and asked teachers to trust in the science.

A hybrid experience was discussed on Monday, and could allow for greater distancing, but teachers believe a complete shutdown of schools had a positive impact on where we are today.

The teachers were asked if the results of this epidemic had them considering quitting or retiring early, and 69 percent say no.

So, even in the face of personal fear and a challenging professional environment, their commitment to our kids continues to shine through.

Learning in quarantine is one of the best ways to stay away from the virus, the the survey shows the quality of the education may be impacted. Teachers say the majority of their students participated in the online learning, but there were gaps with some students not fully engaged. 

"Across the state, I think kids were just not signing on or not doing things. The good thing is that it was toward the end of the year, so they already had a pattern, we had our material going," Janick said. 

Janick explains how we can change that. 

"Were there little losses? Of course there were. This was thrown at us in two second, but now, with a plan in place, ready to go, we can fill those gaps," Janick said. 

Teachers also indicate learning from home needs to be a team effort. More than half surveyed say the reasons for lack of participation were a lack of parental support and a lack of student interest. 

"If you have strong parents at home, making sure education is important and saying, 'hey, turn the TV off and make sure you do your homework,' that's always going to be the better student for us," Janick said. 

The CEA survey also shows 90 percent would like everyone in school buildings to wear masks.

The survey also shows the overwhelming majority of teachers, more than 90 percent, also support the use of: hand sanitizers, masks, 6 feet social distancing, constant disinfecting and handwashing, banning visitors, testing protocols, temperature checks for schools.

Ultimately, each district is responsible for its plan, but putting the ideas into action will have an impact on the classroom experience that parents may have overlooked.

“What we’re essentially doing is recreating the wheel and saying everything we used to do, we can no longer do,” Dias said.

She said while team projects and paper assignments in her class may go away, the coronavirus safety measures are really amplified when we put ourselves in the shoes of a younger student.

“I imagine those 4- and 5-year-old’s getting off the bus, scared,” she said. “Normally, kindergarten teachers are able to embrace those kids and provide a paternalistic, ‘it’s going to be ok; we love you, we care for you.’ None of that is acceptable anymore. All of those comforting behaviors that would have gone along with your teacher are absent now.”

The classroom itself will be socially distanced. It’s possible that doors or windows will be open to promote airflow.

“You’re talking about putting 20 students plus adults, in an unairconditioned room together with face masks on and hoping we still get the same level of concentration and effectiveness as we would otherwise,” Dias said.

Teachers like Dias said they are nervous.

“I haven’t sat in a restaurant with 20 people and I’m going to go and hang out with kids in a classroom in a building with 1,600 people in it. That’s kind of edging my anxiety up,” Dias said.

They’ll be protecting themselves as much as possible and that changes the connection between teacher and student.

Some teachers are left to find creative ways to show students there’s a compassionate person behind the protective gear.

“Maybe if I have picture of myself and I take a picture and put it on the board and show the kids ‘this is how Mrs. Dias is feeling,’ they’re creative to try and figure this out, but we know it’s not the same,” Dias said.

As she tries to reconfigure her teaching methods, Dias expects to really lean on technology in this upcoming school year.

Read the Connecticut Education Association's back to school report here.

Sign up for Channel 3's Back to School Newsletter by clicking here.

Copyright 2020 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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(3) comments

CTYankee

CEA and nationwide teacher unions are powerful groups in American education, they use their power to promote these special interests—in collective bargaining, in politics—and this often leads them to do things that are not good for children or for schools. -- Brookings Institution Press

Perhaps now that CT has passed law enforcement reform the next contracts and unions that need to be examined and laws changed to protect the children are the teacher unions. The unions protect bad teachers, fight school choice (which affects at risk students) and have a political agenda not always in favor of the student.

Alejandra

Unfortunately, this state is providing a false sense of security. Many other states whom previously didn't take safety precautions seriously are now suffering COVID outbreaks that are out of their control. The fact that the Governor asks us to relying on information that changes daily is seriously counter productive. Science is great but as many have said there is still plenty that we do NOT know about this virus. STOP wasting time and let's become proactive, this way we may succeed on possibly regaining what was once the norm.

Simple Logic

I'm not saying I'm for or against sending students into schools this fall, I don't know what the 'right thing' is, but have we had any statistics shared on infection rates stemming from the daycares that remained open during the high peak of the pandemic in the state? There were some... did anything happen there, any major outbreaks caused by those day cares staying open? Did all of them have strict social distancing practices in place with the kids? I would think we might be more informed if we had this information to consider when sending kids back into classrooms this fall....

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