DANBURY — About 100 students with the most significant special education needs are expected to return to the school buildings on Monday, over the objection of the teachers’ union.
These students will be the first in the Danbury Public Schools buildings since everyone was sent home in mid-March at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rising coronavirus numbers have sparked fear that the mitigation strategies the district plans to implement to prevent the spread of the virus will not be enough.
“We are doing everything we could possibly do,” school board member Joe DaSilva said at Tuesday evening’s meeting. “But there is only so many things you can do getting in a cage with a hungry lion, and that’s what we’re doing unfortunately.”
Danbury administrators have faced heavy criticism from parents, including those with children who have special needs, for staying on distance learning throughout the academic year. The plan is to bring the rest of the students back on the hybrid model in mid-January.
Parents whose children will return on Monday and the district’s medical advisers have approved the decision, school officials said. The superintendent said he could decide later to delay or bring students home if COVID-19 rates worsen.
“I’m not comfortable bringing back higher numbers,” Superintendent Sal Pascarella said. “Am I worried? Sure, I’m worried. There’s no doubt about that, but because the cohorts were so small, that’s what swayed the medical folks.”
The 100 students, who have struggled the most with distance learning, will be spread out throughout eight buildings, said Kelly Truchsess, director of pupil personnel services. Students ride the bus with those who will be in their classroom, she said.
The most any school building will have is 23 students, she said. Most buildings will have 10 or fewer.
“We’re talking about a very small number of very needy students,” Truchsess said.
But Erin Daly, president of NEA Danbury, the teacher’s union, said the district is not ready for the Monday return.
She submitted to the board demands that need to be resolved ahead of Monday and urged administrators to delay until after the holidays or the city has a 10-day decline in COVID rates.
“It’s not the right time, Daly said. “We’ve got to put people’s safety first. We can catch up on the services. We can catch up on filling in the gaps with education. We can’t catch up on people’s health, and we cannot bring people back that were maybe sacrificed for this disease.”
The city has averaged 73.4 daily cases per 100,000 people over two weeks, according to state data last updated Thursday. Danbury has had more than 700 new cases since Nov. 15, including 63 new positives on Tuesday, according to city data.
This comes as a coalition of education labor unions in Connecticut call for in-person learning to end until demands, such as statewide protocols for reporting and responding to positive cases and regular COVID testing of students and staff, are met.
Special education teachers have