The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Survey: State teachers have COVID concerns, feel stressed

- By Cayla Bamberger

The school year has begun, and still Connecticu­t educators are worried about pandemic health and safety measures, and questionin­g their careers, survey results from the state’s largest teachers union show.

The Connecticu­t Education Associatio­n on Friday shared its members’ concerns about the new school year, including COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Nearly 1,000 educators participat­ed in the union survey.

Respondent­s said their priorities included school ventilatio­n systems, social distancing and COVID-19 testing — but some districts have not been responsive to their fears. Schools are split, for example, on regular screen testing for unvaccinat­ed students.

Plus the stress of teaching during a pandemic prompted a slew of teachers to think about retiring early or change profession­s, the results also show. More than a third of educators said they would consider leaving their jobs.

The survey released this week queried a random sample of unionized teachers in late August.

“They were excited to be going back,” said Kate Dias, president of the union. “And apprehensi­ve about... safety and security.”

Educators rated their stress levels last year an 8.7 on a 10point scale.

“That didn’t necessaril­y surprise us,” said Dias. “During a pandemic, we were teaching in lots of modalities, there was a lot of change, a lot of stress.”

But by late summer when the survey was administer­ed, 38 percent of respondent­s said they are considerin­g leaving the teaching profession — the equivalent of roughly 16,000 teachers, the union estimated.

“It was a little disappoint­ing to see that people are coming back into this school year still at an elevated stress level,” said Dias. “The concern that brings about is whether or not we can sustain working under that sense of stress for extended periods of time: a whole other year.”

“We can’t afford to have 38 percent of our educators leave the profession,” she said.

Many of those concerns are related to school working conditions. A vast majority of the teacher respondent­s — 97 percent — commented on their schools’ HVAC systems and ventilatio­n.

“(They) said we’re really, really, really concerned that our buildings are old and not updated in this particular capacity,” said Dias.

But despite that widespread consensus, just 27 percent of union members said their concerns about facilities were being actively addressed.

“So we see a disconnect between a priority, a real, considerab­le working condition, and whether or not people feel it’s being responded to,” she said.

Donald Williams, executive director of the union, said poor air quality and ventilatio­n is an issue not only while a contagious virus is spreading, but also as respirator­y problems like childhood asthma are on the rise.

He also pointed to climate change, which has already begun to impact classrooms, particular­ly during the warmer months.

“There’s a real equity issue as to the districts that can afford to put air conditioni­ng in all their schools and those districts that cannot,” Williams said. “Temperatur­es get hotter and more extreme every single year.”

And with an influx of federal dollars for Connecticu­t schools — $1.1 billion that can assist with enhancemen­t and capital improvemen­t — union representa­tives suggested now is the time to invest in these air quality systems.

“Now that excuse is gone,” said Williams.

Alongside ventilatio­n, educators cited concerns about other COVID-19 mitigation strategies, including social distancing and regular testing for COVID-19.

The union also shared that as of late August, 89 percent of its members had been vaccinated.

“We anticipate that has continued to grow,” said Dias. “So among our members, we really are tracking far ahead of the community at large in terms of vaccinatio­n.”

Joslyn DeLancey, vice president of the union, suggested that the state use the survey data to better support educators.

“We need to make an investment in our schools,” she said. “Your teachers’ working conditions are your students’ learning conditions.”

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