In a stunning rebuke, the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) is raising the alarm about legislation altered before passage as the result of backroom negotiations between teacher’s union leaders and General Assembly leadership. They state, “Superintendents were blindsided as this piece of legislation was hidden from view. There was no transparency.”

Connecticut’s new law Public Act 22-80, “Concerning Mental and Physical Health Services in Schools” is supposed to be about kids’ health and wellness. Unfortunately, the teachers’ union added two provisions late in the process that will have a significant impact on our children.

Frank Ricci

One provision bans dual instruction, effectively terminating remote learning. Although one lesson of the pandemic is that in-person instruction is vastly preferable, this measure would have negative unintended consequences.  Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents points to the case of a third grader going through chemotherapy who would be being barred from logging in to a lesson with his peers.

Other educational professionals pointed to behavioral issues, where remote learning is an option if a student’s physical inclusion in a class leads to disruption and loss of learning for other students, or to prevent students suffering from severe anxiety and depression from being left out. Gifted and talented middle school kids could also suffer, as well, in school districts that currently offer them the option of remote attendance at high school classes.

There is seldom a one-size-fits-all solution, and our superintendents should have the flexibility necessary to put the educational needs of children first.  Because decisions made closest to particular needs of an academic community often yield the best outcomes, it’s a mistake to handcuff superintendents with blanket mandates from the state.

According to Ellington Superintendent Scott Nicol, “The state Senate majority leadership, working with the CEA, prioritizes adults over children on a last-minute change. There wasn’t any public notice or process so that legislators could fully understand the negative impact these provisions have on students.”

He added, The CEA lobbying to ban dual remote instruction, a practice utilized by teachers in various forms for decades, is tone deaf at a time when children, especially those struggling with mental health issues, could surely benefit.  To be clear, the state Senate majority leadership should refrain from legislating teacher professional instructional practice.”

Nicol is right.  The overreach of the labor unions and majority leadership is outrageous and will stifle the innovation and flexibility that serves our kids best.

The other provision slipped in at the 11th hour is the length of time for lunch. Most would agree that a 30-minute, uninterrupted lunch is a reasonable request – but it should be bargained collectively, rather than mandated by the state, to ensure there are no unintended consequences.

The Ellington Board of Education drafted a letter to the General Assembly indicating the mandated change is likely to affect 40 percent of school districts in the state; adding an additional 5-6 minutes to their lunch waves would reduce instructional time up to 18 minutes a day, the equivalent of losing 9.5 days of instruction over the course of a school year. They estimate it will cost over $1.25 million to make up this lost time.

Connecticut collective bargaining laws were intended to be adversarial. Agreements are supposed to protect and balance the interests of workers and the taxpayers – but even in the best circumstances, it’s all too easy for taxpayers to be forgotten.

The insertion of these provisions at the 11th hour demonstrates an even more pernicious phenomenon: A trend where union leaders circumvent the bargaining table altogether, and instead rely on political horse trading at the capital, far removed from any transparency or accountability, either to its members or the public at large. The tradeoff for favorable legislations is endorsements and free campaign workers — at the expense of our children and the taxpayers.

Frank Ricci is a Fellow of Labor & Special Initiatives for the Yankee Institute. He was the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano and was a union official for 16 years, retiring after winning two terms as President for New Haven Fire Fighters.