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CT AFL-CIO asks Lamont to extend executive order for schools through June, warns of new shutdown

President of the CT AFL-CIO Sal Luciano sent a letter to Gov. Ned Lamont requesting the governor extend his executive order requiring school districts to continue paying staff and vendors until June of 2021 in case schools are forced to close again.

“We ask you to quickly issue a new executive order extending the provisions of Executive Order 7R through June 30, 2021,” Luciano wrote in the Sept. 16 letter. “Doing so will provide certainty to districts and staff. In addition, we request that a new executive order broaden the language contained in section 3 of Executive Order 7R to require districts to maintain contracts they hold with all vendors that provide school services, including but not limited to those that provide transportation, special education and janitorial services.” 

Executive Order 7R was issued by Lamont on March 31 and required school districts to continue paying their staff, including those who would not necessarily be working following the school closures, and “to the greatest extent possible” continue paying contracts to outside vendors such as school bus companies even though they were not actively transporting children to school. 

The executive order was partially to ensure compliance with federal CARES Act requirements so that Connecticut could receive federal funds to help school districts pay for COVID-related costs. In total, Connecticut received $111 million, $99 million of which was dispersed to school districts.

However, the continued payment of contracts for outside vendors didn’t sit well with some municipalities and some of those contracts were renegotiated to save school districts money during the closure.

Lamont’s emergency powers allow him to issue executive orders that can suspend or alter state legislation and regulations, but they only last for six months, meaning that the expiration for executive order 7R will come at the end of September.

Although Lamont’s emergency powers were extended until February 9, 2021, once his emergency powers end, so too will the executive orders he issued in response to the pandemic, making extension of 7R until June unlikely – unless the governor’s powers are extended once again.

Although Lamont’s emergency powers were extended until February 9, 2021, once his emergency powers end, so too will the executive orders he issued in response to the pandemic, making extension of 7R until June unlikely – unless the governor’s powers are extended once again.

Although the Democrat majority leaders voted to extend Lamont’s emergency powers until February, a third extension could be a difficult sell: the 2021 legislative session would presumably be in full swing with a difficult state budget to tackle and the governor’s continued authority is beginning to spark public outcry.

However, schools have been intermittently shutting down for short periods of time due to positive test cases. The governor has expressed concern that the virus could see a resurgence in Connecticut and has held off on loosening restrictions on businesses and entertainment venues.

Positive coronavirus cases have ticked up slightly in the past few weeks, according the state’s testing data.

While Lamont has left the details of school reopening to school districts, teacher unions in the state have also been pressuring Lamont to take a more hands-on approach, saying the lack of state policy puts students, teachers and staff at risk.

“The absence of consistent guidelines and adherence to protocols is evident in many districts, as is a lack of quality PPE and CDC-approved disinfecting and cleaning supplies,” wrote Connecticut Education Association President Jeff Leake. “Without state mandates, transparency, and open communication, districts are jeopardizing the health and safety of entire school communities.”

The CEA and a coalition of other unions issued their own guidelines for the state, saying schools shouldn’t be allowed to reopen that didn’t meet criteria such as requiring the district to have a joint labor and management committee, requiring face masks for all students and staff and maintaining six feet of distance between students and staff during the school day.

“A number of districts have closed or had to close individual school buildings for short periods of time in order to respond to positive coronavirus cases. We expect that this kind of activity could continue intermittently throughout the school year,” Luciano wrote. 

“We are also aware that if infection rates increase, it may be necessary for all districts to move to full remote models. Under these circumstances, there is no guarantee that 10-month, hourly school staff would be paid or remain employed,” the letter states.

**Meghan Portfolio contributed to this article**

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