EAST HAVEN, CT (WFSB) - Teachers in East Haven protested outside the local high school on Tuesday.
They demanded safety before reopening schools.
Tuesday night's demonstration was part of a statewide effort to demand safer back to school plans.
In one week, East Haven goes back to five days a week, in-person learning. While that's been the state's goal, most districts are going for the hybrid model.
"I don't sleep at night and I seem to be developing pains that I never had," said Mary Beth Maturo, an East Haven teacher.
East Haven is planning to follow the state's recommendations word for word, meaning starting next week, it is going back full time.
According to teachers in the town, 75 percent of the student body is expected to return, while the other 25 percent will be learning from home.
The Board of Education meeting was held inside the auditorium at the high school while the protest happened outside. There were only 25 people allowed inside the meeting.
Teachers said their classroom was much smaller than the auditorium and the limit too will be 25.
"A hybrid situation is the ability to have 50 percent of your students in class at one time. With a full class, we cannot social distance kids. They're near each other, no matter what we do, there's not enough space in the classroom," said Michael Archambault, vice president of the Educator's Association.
Al Camera, a middle school teacher, said he knows how devastating the coronavirus can be because earlier this year, he was diagnosed with it.
"It was a 12-day stay in the hospital, six in the ICU, none of which I want to remember," Camera said.
He was one of the more than 100 protesting the return to the 100 percent in-classroom learning.
Teachers wore red and many had protective gear on, marching to get their safety concerns heard.
"None of us fearing working, none of us fear challenges, but we have grave concerns of the safety in terms of social distancing and things that we don't think are part of a full return," Camera said.
Teachers are looking for a compromise. They want to adopt a hybrid model where half of the learning can be done online while the other half is in class.
"We would be able to social distance using the six foot rule as well as giving them the ability for everyone to see in-person learning," Archambault said.
A coalition of unions representing more than 60,000 school staffers, including teachers, custodians, paraprofessionals, and bus drivers, banded together to call for safety updates before they return to school.
They recently submitted a 13-point plan to help improve conditions, which includes calling for each district to have a joint labor committee, mandatory masks for all students regardless of grade level, social distancing guarantees, a proper HVAC system for better ventilation, and better accommodations for immunocompromised students and staffers.
The Connecticut Education Association, or CEA, said it made its demands publicly, because so far going through the process has not been effective.
"Both the governor and commissioner are concerned about safety. What we’re finding out, however, is that isn’t necessarily translating into actions and activities that are taking place in all of the different local districts in Connecticut," said Jeff Leake, CEA president.
Union representatives submitted their demands to Gov. Ned Lamont and education leaders, but said so far the response has been inaction. Teachers and other school staffers said they’ll continue raising their voices to demand change, because the stakes are impossibly high.
"The nightmares that teachers are having are about their students becoming gravely ill or maybe dying," local fifth grade teacher Katy Gale told Channel 3.
Channel 3 requested to speak with Superintendent Erica Forti several times. Each request earned no response and she left the meeting via a separate exit.
"One of the first things I'll be doing tonight when I get home is reaching out to the superintendent to set up a meeting to see if I can discuss these concerns with her, because that was the real frustration tonight," said Rep. Joseph Zullo.
As of Tuesday, teachers in East Haven will be going back to school five days a week.