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Teachers stand in solidarity for school safety as other groups draw attention to student mental health

The Connecticut Education Association is calling for safer schools, while some teachers tried to draw attention to the pandemic’s effect on student mental health.

WINDSOR, Conn. — Educators stood in solidarity and in the cold Wednesday to call attention to school safety. The event was called "The Blackout" and was organized by union leaders who say the state hasn’t done enough to keep students and staff safe during this COVID surge.

The most recent week of data shows that Connecticut schools logged more than 7,600 confirmed student cases of COVID and more than 2,300 cases among staff.

It was a sea of black outside Windsor High School.

“People are sick. So we don’t have the supplies we need,” First Grade Teacher Misty Holke said.

“We want our students to learn but we want everybody to be safe at the same time,” Keva Griggs, a literacy coach in Windsor, said.

The Connecticut Education Association is calling for safer schools, beginning with N95 masks and test kits.

“We’ve seen the governor’s press conferences saying that all of these things are available to them and then they are not,” remarked Kate Dias, the President of the Connecticut Education Association.

RELATED: Local school staff groups plan dueling COVID demonstrations for Wednesday

So FOX61 asked the governor, where’s the disconnect?

“I would like to think that overwhelmingly they have gotten to all the local schools as needed,” responded Gov. Ned Lamont. “If there are a few outliers out there, give us a call. I’ll drive them there myself.”

In a recent member survey, 88% of CEA members said districts should have the flexibility to go remote for a short time to ensure classroom safety and proper staffing.

“Let’s have that tool in our toolbox,” said Dias.

Will state leaders listen?

“Building some flexibility into the 180-day calendar for short periods where things have to be remote in the case of an emergency. These are obviously some things that we will look at,” said State Sen. Marty Looney.

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While it was a blackout outside the schools Wednesday, on the inside some other staff wore red.

“There are teachers around the state who do not endorse what the CEA is saying,” explained Aaron Hoffman, an Ellington High School teacher.

Hoffman organized a different movement to draw attention to the pandemic’s effect on student mental health.

“I had a student who had COVID, was out for a week, came back and looked at me and said, 'I’m just struggling right now.' And these kids have struggled for two years. We've put them through the wringer,” Hoffman said.

RELATED: Lamont says he may need narrow extension of COVID powers

Back in Windsor, the CEA President told FOX61 that during the town's recent distribution of masks, N95 masks were handed out in bulk to residents, while teachers only received one KN95 mask.

She said sometimes a mask is more than a mask. It shows you are demonstrating care and respect for the work going on. We reached out to the town manager's office for a comment, but have not heard back.

Matt Caron is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at mcaron@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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