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Concerns among some parents, staff as New Haven students return to school for in-person learning

New Haven

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — It is back to school Tuesday for thousands of youngsters in New Haven. Parents had the option to resume in-person learning for students from Pre-K to 5th grade, but not everyone thinks a return to class is a good idea.

Most students have not set foot in New Haven public schools since last March, but there are plenty of people think it is still too soon to go back into the classroom.

A small group of concerned parents protested outside New Haven’s school bus yard, just as those buses were rolling out for the first time in ten months.

“We mean business about our children and educators. We want to make sure that they are safe,” said Nijija-Ife Waters, who has a son with severe asthma.

Waters is keeping her son home, and organizing a school boycott with the group City Wide Parent Team. They are making social media posts with the hashtag “Schoolsout.”

At the same time, thousands of children did head off to school, including the daughter of Mayor Justin Elicker (D-New Haven). He was there as she got on the school bus, which showed up about an hour late.

“In person learning, so the kids can talk with each other and socialize and be with their teacher in person, is something that’s really important to their development,” Elicker said.

The head of the teachers’ union says his members are worried about going back in the classroom before they’ve had a chance to get vaccinated.

A group called New Haven Public School Advocates has created an anonymous online form people can use to report health and safety concerns in the schools.

Just last week, Superintendent Dr. Iline Tracey took News 8 on a tour of one school to show all the signs and arrows pointing the way to keep kids socially distanced, saying schools will be frequently and thoroughly cleaned.

Related: What’s Right with Schools: New Haven schools prepare for students to return for in-person learning

Meanwhile, Waters says eating lunch in classrooms cuts down on socializing, but is dangerous for kids with severe food allergies.

“Every child should be able to go inside the building, not just the healthiest kids,” Waters said.

The teachers’ union agreed that the district went above and beyond what was necessary in cleaning and sanitizing the schools. It is only the younger students who are allowed back in person so far.

Unlike elementary school kids, middle and high school students spend all day in different rooms with different students, so the district is waiting to bring them back.

RELATED: ‘Do not risk my life for this charade’: Some New Haven teachers against returning to in-person learning on Jan. 19

The New Haven Federation of Teachers sent out the following message to schools:

“Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all been asked to plan for and navigate unknown territory as a new human pathogen spreads among our community. We appreciate your efforts to lead us in cautiously reopening schools and believe that our collective efforts thus far have saved lives.  

At the same time, the current New Haven Public Schools’ reopening proposal is missing critical information that puts lives at risk. Since last summer, staff and families repeatedly requested, in various ways and venues, system-wide guidance on infection control policies and procedures, collected in one single reference document, disseminated through system-wide training for staff, as well as communication with families. It could draw from, update, and expand upon the preliminary work of the Tiger Team draft proposals last summer. This is standard practice nationally; see plans from other districts here (scroll down). In the continued absence of such a plan, staff report confusion and inconsistency in safety standards. Families in turn report inadequate and inconsistent information to make informed decisions and prepare children for school in just a few days.  

The undersigned individuals and organizations have varying opinions on when and under what conditions it is safe to re-open schools. However, we all agree that an essential requirement for safe school reopening is a reference guide that addresses the most common operational questions and scenarios. These topics include: breakfast and lunch; bathrooms; mask breaks; opening windows and doors; physical distancing; overflow rooms; recess; physical education; music; busing; shared classroom supplies and equipment; maintaining adequate PPE and hygiene supplies; coverage during staff quarantine; ADA approved staff coverage (substitute teachers); paid leave for staff affected by COVID isolation room; risk mitigation for staff in contact with large numbers of children weekly; and management of asthma attacks and life-threatening allergies. While each school has particularities, universal infection control practices must be centrally established and disseminated in order to maximize protection. 

The New Haven Public Schools would be negligent to reopen in the absence of this centralized guidance. We call on you to steward a process for compiling uniform infection control policies and procedures with urgency, in consultation with families, staff, health professionals, and community partners. We further call on you to delay the reopening of school until no earlier than Monday, February 1 in order to allow these policies and procedures to be assembled and disseminated, staff to be trained, and families informed.  

We hope to have your partnership in doing so. We are prepared to pursue all possible avenues to ensure that this critical guidance is in place before schools reopen.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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