MANCHESTER, Conn. (WTIC Radio)—The Connecticut Education Association (CEA) is calling on the Lamont Administration to invest in schools after a recent survey showed that more than one-third of educators are considering leaving the profession early over pandemic-related concerns.
Nearly 38% of educators with the CEA indicated in a new back-to-school survey that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted them to consider retiring early or changing professions.
"Thirty percent of our membership is roughly 16,000 teachers. That's a lot of people to talk about vacating a profession early," CEA President Kate Dias said, "From not just my position as a state leader but as communities at large, we have to really dig deep and figure out how we can address that problem."
The first step in addressing the issue is to tackle the main priorities teachers have indicated in the survey concerning health and safety, Dias suggested.
According to the poll--which about 1,000 CEA members responded to between August 20 and 25--97% of respondents marked improved ventilation in schools as a top safety priority.
Ventilation systems are of concern due to to the fact that poor air quality in classrooms could lead to a spread of coronavirus, especially among younger grades where students are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, CEA Executive Director Donald Williams explained.
Despite ventilation being a top concern, only 27% of respondents said their schools have actually made improvements to their ventilation systems.
"There is a real equity issue as to the districts that can afford to put air conditioning in all their schools and those districts that cannot," Williams noted.
Teachers also indicated in the survey that regular COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated staff and required quarantines for those who are exposed to COVID-19 are top priorities.
However, only 51% of educators believe that these policies are being followed in their schools.
These concerns factor into the stress levels that are prompting thoughts about leaving the profession, Dias said.
In 2020, workplace stress levels were at 8.7 out of 10, CEA officials said. Educators expect stress levels to remain above eight through this school year, according to the survey.
"Educators are professionals, and when they aren't treated as professionals or they are not allowed to have input on critical issues that affect students and public education policy, including health and safety concerns, they are going to look for work elsewhere, where stress levels are lower, pay is higher and they receive the respect they deserve," Dias said.
The teacher shortage is nothing new, she explained, but the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the situation.
Some districts started the school year without a full staff and had to do significant hiring after school opened, Dias said.
The CEA is asking Governor Ned Lamont and the State Department of Education to heed the information in the survey and to act accordingly in order to ensure safety in schools and to enhance the quality of education provided to Connecticut students.
"Connecticut has received $1.1 billion in aid for education to assist with enhancement and capital improvement. That's spot on in terms of upgrading the air quality systems and providing air conditioning where it doesn't exist," Williams said.
"We know in-person teaching is best," Dias said, "but we also need to do all we can to keep our school communities safe and prevent further spread of the virus."