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Staffing, Timing Raise Concerns Over New Haven Public Schools Opening

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The New Haven Federation of Teachers president said there are many concerns about going back to school right now when coronavirus cases are higher than they were in the fall.

One concern David Cicarella asks is what will happen when staff numbers start off lower than normal?

While parents have the option to continue remote learning, teachers are finding their options are slim. There are 170 New Haven teachers approved for ADA accommodations with 70 more waiting.

“We’ve always had a substitute teacher shortage in New Haven prior to this,” said Cicarella. “Now with 250 teachers potentially out on some type of accommodation, I don’t know where we’re going to get these bodies.”

He said there are about 100 members of the substitute teachers union. The district is looking for more substitute teachers, which raises a larger question for Cicarella.

“We’ve been out since March, it’s January. I’m not sure what the rush is and where did we land on this arbitrary date?” Cicarella asked.

City leaders plan to present research Monday night that shows transmission rates among young school children are low.

“The evidence strongly indicates that having, in particular, young kids come back to school is relatively low risk, especially if the kids are wearing their masks, adults are wearing their masks, if there’s enough space for distancing and other attributes we all know about,” said Mayor Justin Elicker, who is also a member of the Board of Education.

Elicker said they’ve completed extensive work preparing the nearly 40 school buildings for students, including inspecting each one with outside contractors and the city’s COVID-19 Task Force.

“None of this is going to be perfect. There’s risks to staying home, there’s risks to being in the community,” said Elicker, who emphasized that parents can opt to continue remote learning.

Parent Valerie Horsely said there’s not enough data about children’s asymptomatic COVID transmission rates, and that the new strains of the virus are concerning.

She said if the schools must go back to in-person learning, cutting the risk for teachers should be a top priority.

“If schools must open in a hybrid model, I think we need to prioritize getting teachers vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Horsely.

Cicarella said waiting until after teachers get vaccinated would be helpful. They’re scheduled for phase 1b, which may start in February and include nearly a million people.

“We’d like to think that it probably makes sense to get the teachers at the front of that line, get them vaccinated so they can get back to school, and then when they are in school, they’re not going to get sick and then be out of school again,” said Cicarella.

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