In this unprecedented era, not only as city council members, but also as fathers, we are concerned about the challenges facing this upcoming school year. While collectively we have three kids in our public schools, our concern is not only for the children, but also our dedicated teachers and staff. Their health and wellness are just as important; it is imperative that we protect them as well. While every detail of the plan points to the safety of students, the teachers and staff members are left wondering where the decisions being made take them into account. It is with all in mind that we are calling upon our local school leaders, Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education, and the governor to push in-school learning until at least the new calendar year.
The Danbury Board of Education and district leaders have come up with the best plan they could to accommodate the governor’s mandate. However, in a district that has been neglected for too many years, is already underfunded and overcrowded, is opening our schools at all the most responsible thing to do?
Cities throughout the country are implementing versions of online learning. Two of the three largest school systems in the United States have recently decided to go back using distance learning. Even in Connecticut we now see the New Haven public schools system looking to start fully with distance learning. We know that there are no perfect solutions. There is no true replacement for having a child learning in a school environment.
Much like most parents, we faced the challenges of distance learning while juggling our own job responsibilities earlier this year. We know this because we experienced it first-hand along with our spouses from March until the end of the last school year. The director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Robert Redfield predicts “the fall and winter of 2021 are to be probably one of the most difficult times we’ve experienced in American public health.”
Coronavirus infections coinciding with flu cases are the main concern given the greater threat of hospital overcrowding. We have seen upticks in new cases 2-3 weeks after national holidays when people tend to socialize. We see communities in Florida and Texas amongst other localities who are experiencing steep increases in infections because their leaders and community members were not responsible enough to protect themselves.
Take a look at the second-grade student in Georgia who tested positive for coronavirus after attending the first day of school, which led the district to require 20 classmates and a teacher to self-quarantine. Google the New York Times article on how Israel re-opened schools after COVID subsided and the terrible outcome. Look at the outbreak issues that the Florida Marlins and Rutgers Football team are experiencing.
If the Danbury Board of Education, City Council, and many municipal committees are still meeting virtually, what does this say when we are trying to push students and teachers back into the classroom?
So we ask, is the risk of opening our schools for two shortened school days per week worth it? Local leaders, it is time to take a stand. Though the final decision may come from an office in Hartford, the case for distance learning for all has to come from our city. That starts with all of us. That is why we call on our school leaders to begin the 2020-2021 school year with a distance learning model for all students until this COVID-19 pandemic is truly under control.
Danbury Councilmen Roberto Alves, Frank Salvatore Jr. and Farley Santos.