Board of Ed Employees Join Statewide "Blackout for School Safety"

On Jan. 12, Bridgeport school paraprofessionals and AFSCME Local 1522 members Rayvon Cox and Ranese Cox of AFSCME Local 1522 came their respective schools wearing black hoodies emblazoned with white writing that read, #Blackout4SafeSchools.

Across the state, thousands of school district employees like Rayvon and Ranese wore an article of black clothing (or in many cases all black, including face masks). They were part of a massive statewide mobilization by thousands of school district employees to draw attention to the need for more pandemic safety protocols in schools.

The #Blackout4SchoolSafety event was organized by the Coalition of Board of Education Employee Unions, which includes Council 4, and represents front-line educators, paras, custodians, nurses, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and monitors, and support staff.

“These folks are the ones who are literally hands on,” AFSCME Local 1522 President Sherrie Weller said. “We need to have a better system in place to protect everybody,” said Weller, whose union represents hundreds of non-certified school staff in Bridgeport.

Council 4 members from districts as diverse as the CREC school sysem, Bridgeport, Stonington, Middletown, New Haven and Berlin and many more took part to send a strong message to state leaders.

Brooke Carta, a school secretary and vice president of AFSCME Local 466, whose membership includes non-teaching staff in Middletown, reported widespread member participation throughout city schools.

“Our local was proud to participate in the statewide solidarity action," Carta told the Middletown Press. "This isn’t about Middletown. It’s about school district employees across Connecticut coming together to urge the Governor and the State Department of Education to help us better protect the health and safety of our students and staff.”

Raheem Nelson is a special education paraprofessional at James Hillhouse High School in New Haven. He, too, witnessed enthusiastic participation by educational staff concerned about how the lack of coherent planning has impacted students and staff.

“I enjoy my job and making the difference,” Nelson, a member of AFSCME Local 3429 (New Haven Paraprofessionals), told the New Haven Register. “As of late I’ve been frustrated due to the reluctance to even have a temporary lockdown. It’s not fair to anyone to sweep the matter under the rug.”

Since returning from the winter break on January 3, Connecticut’s schools have experienced rampant spikes in COVID-19--a situation worsened by failure to distribute promised protective gear and home test kits, along with extensive staff shortages.

According to the union coalition's survey of public school employees conducted Jan. 7-10, 2022, those concerns still exist. More than 5,500 teachers, paraprofessionals, school bus drivers and monitors, custodians, nurses and support staff in 169 districts across the state reported that schools are not as safe as they should be. Among the findings:

  • Nearly two thirds of respondents (62%) said they do not have the supplies and protocols in place to feel safe performing their jobs.
  • Nearly three quarters (70%) of educators, 64% of paras, and 57% of support staff said they didn’t have access to N95 masks and home testing kits when they returned to school.
  • More than a third (37%) of respondents said they work directly with students who can’t or refuse to wear a mask.
  • More than half (55%) of paraprofessionals said they have been unable to fully implement their assigned students’ IEP and 504 plans due to staff shortages.

The survey findings of course track with what our members continue to face on a daily basis. Members of Local 1996 (Stonington Paraprofessionals) cited concerns ranging from students wearing masks improperly (or not complying at all) and the lack of widespread testing for students and staff to a lack of contract tracing and staff having to use their their own sick time to quarantine when necessary. 

"The outpouring of participation by AFSCME and other union members was incredibly uplifting," said Council 4 Secretary Stacie Harris-Byrdsong, a lead educator at CREC and president of AFSCME Local 3194 (paraprofessionals and related staff). 

"This struggle is not about words. It's about deeds," she added. "We want state and local leaders to do better by our students and staff. And we won't stop until our schools are as safe a place to learn and grow as humanly possible."

  • Click here for the Board of Education Union Coalition's press release on the survey and the #Blackout4SafeSchools event.
  • Click here for photos of #Blackout4SafeSchools.
  • Click here for the 2nd gallery of photos.