State employee unions won a key battle Friday with Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration to close classrooms in Connecticut’s prisons, charging that teachers were initially instructed to return to work today — a loophole that heightened the risk of exposing major institutions to COVID-19.

The head of the union representing about 200 prison instructors and 350 prison guard supervisors said CSEA-SEIU Local 2001 leaders thought they had reached an understanding with the administration to halt classes starting Tuesday but then learned this was not the case.

“The main reason we are pushing for [instructors] not to be in and out of the prisons is because it’s the right policy to control the spread, to keep it out of these facilities,” said David Glidden, executive director of Local 2001.

“This should be alarming to all citizens of Connecticut, given the unprecedented public health crisis that society is attempting to curb not only within our state, but at the national and global level,” said Joshua Thompson, a state school psychologist. “This reckless Executive Order exposes teachers, staff, students, and all of their families to the unnecessary risk of contracting COVID-19 and perpetuating this disastrous outbreak.”

Lamont ordered all Connecticut schools closed on Monday. Prison schools were open Monday but then closed Tuesday through Thursday. But the union was surprised to learn Wednesday night that the order didn’t apply to their members, who were directed to return to work Friday.

About 10% of Connecticut’s inmates take classes, which also are offered at three facilities for juvenile offenders.

The instructors’ union quickly received support from the bargaining unit representing Connecticut’s 700 prison guards.

“We disagree with the state’s decision to exempt correctional education from the mandatory closing of public schools,” said Sean Howard, an officer at the Cheshire Correctional Institution and president of Local 387 of Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “We are in the beginning stages of a pandemic crisis that calls for taking every precaution possible to protect staff, inmates and the public. As correction officers, we understand that we need to be on the job. Requiring teachers to report to work puts all of us at risk.”

Spokesmen for the Department of Correction and the governor’s office did not respond immediately after Glidden made his comments to CT Mirror.

But the department released a statement 20 minutes later, at 3:18 p.m.,  that read: “All Unified School District #1 classes within the Department of Correction were cancelled on Friday in order to allow for educators, school administrators, and custody staff to develop strategies for keeping students safe while still providing for an enriching educational experience.”

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

Leave a comment