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Local school staff groups plan dueling COVID demonstrations for Wednesday

A group plans to wear black to school to bring attention to their safety concerns, while another plans to wear red for keeping kids in school for mental health.

HARTFORD, Conn. — The conversation around school and COVID-19 is growing louder after schools experienced staff shortages and other issues after winter break.

One group of Connecticut educators and school staff plan to wear black to school Wednesday to bring attention to their safety concerns, including staff shortages and calls for more masks and test kits.

The initiative was launched by the Connecticut Education Association and a group of other unions representing teachers, custodians and other school staff, known as the Board of Education Union Coalition.

“We need support, we need you to know what our working conditions are like and we need you to know we all don’t have what we need,” Kate Dias, President of the Connecticut Education Association, said. “We’re really calling to ensure that masks are available, high-quality masks to educators because we know with this variant, it’s a really quick spreader.”

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The coalition conducted a survey of their members. Out of more than 5,000 respondents, about 62 percent feel they don’t have the supplies and protocols in place to feel safe at work. Eighty-eight percent believe districts should have the flexibility to move to short-term remote learning, something that mother Erica Cabrera supports. Her daughter is enrolled in Waterbury Public Schools, which closed Monday due to a staff shortage.

“Parents still send their kids to school sick,” Cabrera said. “If they’re going to be closed, then I’d rather have her do virtual learning and that should have been an option for parents.”

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Another group of teachers, including Ellington history teacher Aaron Hoffman, is planning a counter initiative, encouraging teachers to wear red in support of keeping kids in school for their mental health and well-being.

“For the last two years, these kids have undergone really drastic changes to their lives that have led to stress and anxiety and isolation and significant loss of learning and so enough is enough, and we need to put these kids first and we need to keep these kids in school,” Hoffman said.

Gov. Lamont responded to the planned blackout protest when asked at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, touting state efforts to get test kits and masks out to schools.

RELATED: Executive order to allow reemployment of retired Connecticut teachers amid COVID staffing shortage

“That’s all to give people the confidence that you can teach in school, your kid can go to school, you can go safely and right now, I think that’s working. I appreciate that there are some teachers that want us to do more and every day, we’re going to try to do more,” Lamont said.

FOX61 reached out to the Connecticut State Department of Education about concerns from CEA over masks and test kits. In a statement to FOX61 News, CSDE Director of Communications Eric Scoville said:

“Over a million tests have been distributed specifically for schools over the past week, and the distribution at the local level is up to individual districts working with their cities and towns. To date, more than 5 million N95 masks have been distributed, with many of them committed for educators. These are critical tools to help keep our educators, staff, and students safe in the classroom.”

Elisha Machado is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at emachado@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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