Skip to content

Teachers Take Their Message to the Streets in Safety First Car Caravan Rallies Across the State

From Stamford to Stonington, Hamden to Hartford, and two dozen towns in between, teachers, students, parents, and community members joined School Safety First Car Caravans demanding safety and health precautions and hybrid learning for school reopening plans.

In Hartford, the car caravan route passed directly in front of the governor’s mansion.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our students, our teachers, and our school communities,” said CEA President Jeff Leake. “CEA are AFT Connecticut organized the car caravans to amplify teachers’ voices against state plans to reopen schools in person and at 100 percent capacity while the coronavirus is still not fully under control.” While the state has since agreed to some flexibility in school reopening plans, CEA and AFT are demanding safety for students, teachers, and staff in all schools.

Drawing teachers from multiple districts, the largest caravan was in Hartford, where 1,000 vehicles traveled to the home of Governor Ned Lamont. In nearly two dozen other cities and towns—including Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, East Hartford, Greenwich, Haddam, Hamden, Naugatuck, Norwalk, Norwich, Putnam, Seymour, Stamford, Stonington, Stratford, Vernon, Willimantic, Wolcott, and Woodbridge—many caravans traveled to the offices of local boards of education. Cars were decorated with signs that read, “I can teach from a distance, but not from a coffin,” and “I don’t accept incomplete work. Please resubmit your plan with necessary revisions.”

“No one wants to return to school more than our dedicated educators,” Leake explained, “but during a global pandemic, we owe it to our students and educators to put their health and safety first.”

Berlin teacher Jessica Ramy and her daughter Jaclyn and New Britain teacher Jennifer Kumnick and her daughters Alex and Avery prepare to take part in the Hartford car caravan.

CEA urges the state to listen to teachers’ concerns and adopt the actions outlined in CEA’s Safe Learning Plan, which focuses on health and safety standards, including CDC protocols and commonsense approaches to keeping our school communities safe.

Bolton music teacher Dan Ayer said, “Teachers know that the best learning happens in person, but the current plan is not safe for kids or staff. We need to send a message to the governor and the public that we need to reevaluate our priorities.”

“As educators, we cannot consider moving forward with a plan that will compromise the health of our students and staff,” said Peter Borofsky, president of the Vernon Education Association, whose members traveled from Rockville High School to Lake Street School, passing every school building in the district. “We should not reopen,” said Borofsky, “until we can provide this basic safety requirement to our schools.”

Cheshire art teacher Jillian Puckett, who attended the car rally in Hartford, said she and her colleagues were there to raise public awareness about myriad school reopening issues. “We feel supported in our town, but we are hamstrung by the lack of support at the state and federal levels.”

“Reopening schools safely will cost significantly more than in pre-COVID times,” Bridgeport Education Association President Ana Batista, noted, “We are a high-poverty district, and without additional funding, our schools cannot implement the CDC safety protocols necessary to ensure safe teaching and learning environments. Plus, when students return to school, they will have increased needs due to learning loss, trauma from the pandemic, and time away from school, and will need additional resources and supports.”

Bridgeport Education Association President Ana Batista spoke to members to kick of the Bridgeport car caravan.

“The safety and well-being of our students and educators has to be our first priority,” Stonington Education President Michael Freeman agreed. “We can’t implement CDC safety protocols, including smaller class sizes, sanitizing stations, daily disinfecting, social distancing guidelines, and more, without additional funding.” Stonington teachers participated in a car rally that wound its way through Mystic and Pawcatuck, starting and ending at Stonington High School.

Amity High School social studies teacher Leeann Browett, who participated in the Hartford rally, said, “It makes my heart happy to see so many teachers united together.” Her goal was to persuade the governor to give teachers and students that same safety measures that have been allowed for consumers and businesses in Connecticut’s slow, phased-in reopening.

“So many of us are not comfortable with the plans put out so far, and we need to keep getting the governor’s attention on this,” said Mansfield middle school math teacher Sue Kamienski, who attended the rally with Mansfield music teacher Liz Whitely. “The governor so far has been great in his response to COVID-19, and we need to extend that to our schools and make it safe for teachers and kids to come back. It’s not feasible for all students to return at once.”

“With less than a month before school starts, we still don’t know what’s happening or how our schools will get the funding needed to implement CDC safety protocols to keep us all safe,” said Hamden Education Association President Diane Marinaro. “Hamden is looking to go back with a hybrid model. If we have to go back, we need to know that every step is being taken to protect our health and safety. The state needs to recognize the funding issues so that all student and staff are protected.” Dozens of Hamden teachers participated in a car rally that wound its way through local neighborhoods and ended at Hamden Middle School.

In Naugatuck, teachers were joined by concerned citizens and educators from other districts, including Waterbury, Region 15, and Terryville. Organized by Naugatuck Teachers’ League (NTL) Secretary Cathy Lungarini, the car caravan which started and ended at Naugatuck High School, making its way through the downtown business district, past the town hall, and around the green.

“As teachers, we all want our schools to reopen,” said NTL President George Macary, adding, “We know how important it is for children’s learning, development, and social skills. With the way the last school year ended, teachers missed the opportunity to witness student academic achievements, their successes on the athletic fields, and other big moments in their lives. Teachers could not attend the culminating activity honoring the years of their K-12 educational experience, or the live 2020 senior graduation.” These missed moments, Macary said, weighed heavy on teachers’ hearts and minds. “However, in order for schools to open, we must be sure that the cornerstone of any reopening plan be built on safety for students and staff. Thanks to CEA President Jeff Leake and Executive Director Don Williams, the CEA staff, and UniServ Reps for always being there for us 24/7, and to our colleagues from across the state who rallied against the message from Governor Lamont that schools would fully open in the fall.”

Macary noted that if restaurants could not be fully opened and some businesses were still closed, teachers were rightfully concerned about the safety of fully reopening schools. Parents, too, he said, were unsure–needing to see district reopening plans and understand what a typical school day would like, such as the room, temperature, humidity levels, mask protocols, physical distancing, and more.

“Community members watch the news, read the newspaper, and follow social media, and they understand COVID-19 is deadly. They get the importance of Gov Lamont’s phase-in plans for reopening the state of Connecticut. What they do not understand is why restaurants were mandated to operate at half capacity but Governor Lamont wanted schools to fully open with students riding on buses filled to capacity. It makes no sense to have residents maintain six feet physical distance, but when it comes to students and teachers, it is six feet or whatever is feasible. When teacher unions are bashed for speaking out, remember our voices speak for everyone in the schools and community; everyone reaps the benefits of our actions. This will be the first time that students have been away from school for such an extended period, and we only get one chance to get it right. We must remember it’s all in the planning. Students need continuity, and a safe 2020-2021 school year needs to be carefully planned and implemented.”

See hundreds of photos of the School Safety First car caravans around the state on CEA’s Flickr page.

Check out the extensive media coverage of the car caravans.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: