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Chris Powell column offensive to educators

At a time when the education community is working overtime to provide students with the academic, social and emotional support they need, Chris Powell "Pandemic response has not been high point for the teaching profession," Feb. 12) attacks the men and women on the frontlines of this effort: teachers.

Since the pandemic hit last year, teachers have taken on an increasingly heavy burden, putting students' needs above their own well-being and pivoting from in-person to remote or hybrid teaching and back, all while juggling the same responsibilities as other parents and caregivers.

They have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep students engaged academically and socially, risking their own health and putting aside time with their own families to ensure that their students have the support they need. In addition to piling on hours to every workday and work week recording videos, reconceiving lessons, mastering new curriculum delivery methods and assessments, and teaching on screen and in person — often simultaneously — teachers have distributed meals and clothing to students on weekends, reached out to families in need of assistance with everything from technology to community resources, and spent hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets on basic necessities that underfunded schools have been slow to provide.

When an expectant couple in Stamford — immigrants who did not speak English — tested positive for coronavirus along with their school-age son, it was their son's elementary school teacher, Luciana Lira, who took in the newborn while she continued to teach. As extraordinary as this sounds, it is one of thousands of everyday examples of the critical connections teachers make with their students and communities both in good times and in crisis.

In return, they have stood with their union in asking that schools reopen safely, with the same measures and protections as other public spaces.

For that, Powell berates them.

In fact, he characterizes the basic protections that teachers and school administrators seek as a "conspiracy against the public." Like all conspiracy theorists, he has a skewed view of the way things actually work.

Contrary to his outlandish assertions, nothing about the pandemic and the way schools operate under it is "normal." While social distancing measures have been well-established in congregate settings that are allowed to reopen, and while teachers in at least half the states have already been vaccinated against COVID, Connecticut's public school teachers find themselves without a vaccine, working in classrooms where even three feet of distance cannot reasonably be maintained, much less six. By and large, they are overextended and underprotected.

What they are asking for — and what the CDC has now deemed "non-negotiable" — is the ability to teach their students in an environment with adequate PPE, testing/quarantining, and safe distancing protocols in place. As the push to prioritize full in-person learning continues, teachers must also be prioritized. We need to vaccinate teachers — now.

Powell is ill-equipped to understand the needs and challenges of today's teachers and schools and unqualified to comment meaningfully on them.

Every Connecticut teacher recognizes that remote instruction is no substitute for in-person learning. But every Connecticut teacher also recognizes that school environments are only as good as they are safe — for students, staff, and their families.

Jeff Leake is the president of the Connecticut Education Association.

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