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School staff unions call for increased COVID safety protocols

A coalition of unions representing teachers, paraeducators and other school staff held a news conference Monday afternoon to detail their concerns.

HARTFORD, Conn — Connecticut education unions are calling on the state to increase COVID safety measures as students return to the classroom. Monday marked the first day of school after winter break.

A coalition of unions representing teachers, paraeducators and other school staff held a news conference Monday afternoon to detail their concerns and a list of nine strategies to improve conditions.

“We’re here today to bring attention to the dangerous conditions at the schools across the state,” Shellye Davis, president of the Hartford Federation of Paraprofessionals, said.

“We’ve watched a lack of masking. I know that I worked in a building today without KN95 or N95 mask availability and we’re worried about tests not generally being available,” Kate Dias, president of the Connecticut Education Association, said.

RELATED: State issues updated COVID-19 guidance for schools

Dias said 60% of her members don’t have access to masks and more than 70% lack access to testing.

She and the coalition are calling on the state to take action and implement a statewide set of improved safety protocols after what they saw in the classroom.

Their demands include more aggressive testing, N95 masks and COVID test kits, requiring N95 masks to be worn in school by everyone, prohibiting combining classes, access to COVID vaccines at all schools and making sure that staff who quarantine don’t use sick time.

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As schools see students absent and a lack of staff, FOX61 asked the coalition if they feel this is time to go remote.

“We are fully committed to being in the classroom," Dias replied. "That’s where we want to be, that’s where we do our best work, but we need to do that safely.”

We reached out to the Connecticut State Department of Education for comment on the topic. They shared with us a letter from Commissioner of Education Charlene Russell-Tucker to superintendents Wednesday saying, CSDE and the Lamont administration “remain committed to safely reopening Connecticut schools for in-person learning by continuing to deploy a comprehensive set of strategies.”

RELATED: Some schools sound the alarm on severe staffing shortages

She added that they’re encouraging districts to vaccinate, test and mitigate. The commissioner said CSDE is working with DPH to get self-test kits and masks to schools.

Dias said the goal is to stay in the classroom if they can get access to more testing and improved mitigation strategies.

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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