WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Some public schools in Waterbury will temporarily convert to half-day schedules to relieve the district of staffing shortages and transportation concerns affected by COVID-19.

School officials made the announcement Monday, saying the modification will begin Tuesday and last through Friday, Jan 14.

The new half-day model will eliminate lunch periods and provide students with grab-and-go breakfast and lunch, according to school officials. Electives will be provided in the afternoon which will allow extra staff to be available to support staffing shortages.

The change will also give high school teachers the ability to cover additional classrooms.

“We know that COVID-19 has been a challenging time for both our community and school district,” Waterbury Superintendent Dr. Verna Ruffin said. “Administration and staff are working relentlessly to provide solutions to new and ongoing issues that arise due to COVID-19. The schedule modifications will assist in relieving our current staff and transportation issues while still keeping academics at the forefront for our students.”  

“We want to keep the kids in school, right? We know that’s key to this, and so we had to think creatively about how do we do this with these staffing shortages, transportation shortages,” Waterbury Schools Chief Academic Officer Darren Schwartz said. “So, we are providing some opportunities for extended learning after those half-days are over for those students in the middle schools and high schools. They’re a little more independent. They can take their Chromebook and work on those pieces.”

The new time schedules for affected schools are as follows:

High Schools

  • Waterbury Career Academy and Waterbury Arts Magnet School: 7:20 a.m. – 11:20 a.m.
  • Crosby, Kennedy, Wilby, Enlightenment and State Street Program: 9:50 a.m. – 1:50 p.m.

Middle Schools

  • Wallace, West Side and North End: 7:50 a.m. – 11:50 a.m.

Pre-K

  • Bucks Hill Annex, Full Day: 9 a.m. – 1:45 p.m.  
  • Bucks Hill Annex, Morning Session: 9 a.m. – 11 a.m.  
  • Bucks Hill Annex, Afternoon Session: 11:45 a.m. – 1:45 p.m.

Schools not listed above will continue following full-day schedules. After-school programs, including ESH, 21st Century, and Commissioners Network will continue to be virtual for the rest of the week.

The Waterbury school district closed all schools Monday and continues to experience bussing delays. As a parent, Sarah Spokas said it is hard to keep up with the scheduling changes at her kids’ schools.

“It’s a big effect, you have to try and find care for your kids if you have to go to work,” Spokas said.

The surge in COVID-19 cases is leaving the district with a lack of staff members and bus drivers to keep the school system running.

“We’ve got about 40 school bus drivers who are COVID-impacted,” Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said.

Hamden Superintendent Jody Goeler is looking into similar changes at Hamden High School, which was closed two days last week. The process includes reviewing staffing numbers with all of the principals at night and again early in the morning. They had as many as 25 staff members in the high school call out in one day.

“You have to look at all of your staff, what they can do and how they can cover for each other,” Goeler said.

Without state approval to go remote, Goeler gave the high school principal the option of shifting to a half-day if needed.

“It’s a serious possibility if the circumstances arise, where that would be the only difference between having no school,” Goeler said.

As for Spokas in Waterbury, she feels a half-day is the best choice under the circumstances.

“A half a day over no school definitely,” Spokas said. “I know it’s a struggle for everyone.”

Waterbury school officials say they will continue to monitor the situation and if needed, adjust schedules beyond this week.

“Not unlike the last two years, in many ways, it’s a fluid situation, and we are doing the best we can to make sure we see students every single day,” Schwartz said.