The State of Connecticut says it wants to be a model employer, but it does not create a model environment.
Proposed legislation under consideration at the General Assembly would move us in the right direction. This bill is important for all people of color, but as a state employee working in the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System (CTECS), I know firsthand its potential to be a game-changer.
S.B. 420 would establish an Office of the Racial Justice Ombudsperson to prioritize hiring of Black, African American and Hispanic or Latinx people. They would also be responsible for creating a mechanism to deliver antiracism and bias training, track participation in these trainings, design climate and culture surveys, submit improvement plans that focus specifically on the cultural and racial safety of employees. All of this promises to foster a workplace where managerial authorities are accountable to lead and model antiracist practices.
I have been a teacher for almost 15 years and taught math and served as department head at A.I. Prince Technical High School in Hartford for seven years. I chose to become a state employee and work in the technical high school system because I believe that teaching is an investment in our future. Teaching our future tradespeople is a direct investment into our state and our local communities. Tradespeople tend to stay in our state and start businesses, pay taxes and become active citizens locally.
There is no better way to improve communities of color than educating and investing in children who want to stay in those communities.
Right now the CTECS district is about 12% Black/African American and 40% Latinx students. However, our staff is 4.6% Black/African American and 6% Latinx. Some schools in our district have one teacher who is Black, Indigenous or a person of color (BIPOC). We are seriously lacking in providing role models of color to our students.
As a person of color, I have almost never had a teacher who looks like me. When I became a teacher, it was important to me to work in a school where my students were people of color. Children of color deserve more teachers of color. White children deserve more teachers of color. It is proven that all students perform better when they have a diverse group of adults educating them.
When our students of color and female students are asked why they do not pick specific trades, the most common response is they do not relate to them or they do not see people of color and women in those trades.
Being a teacher of color can be isolating and exhausting. The constant need to represent, advocate and educate our peers causes many teachers of color in our district to leave. Right now there are no efforts being made to retain our teachers of color or recruit more teachers of color. Unfortunately this is the norm for all state employees of color.
Almost two years ago, our members volunteered their own time to create a committee within our union with the purpose of supporting teachers of color and improving retention and recruitment. Despite meeting with the superintendent and developing plans, we saw no immediate action on the part of state officials. In fact, at a time when racial issues reached a peak, many of us became more isolated and exhausted in our workplaces.
State officials fly a Black Lives Matter flag over the Capitol building while telling teachers of Black children that they cannot hang Black Lives Matter posters in their classrooms. Many of our teachers of color leave because of the isolation.
The State of Connecticut claims its desire to be a model employer and S.B. No. 420 presents a real opportunity to do so. Lawmakers should lead by example on racial justice by voting in favor of this legislation and sending it to the governor for his signature into law.
Makenzi Hurtado is Vice President of the State Vocational Federation of Teachers (SVFT), AFT Local 4200-A. SVFT represents the nearly 1,200 career technical education professionals and support staff in the Connecticut Technical High School System (CTECS).