Some students in New Haven returned to school in-person Tuesday for the first time in almost a year, since the coronavirus pandemic started last March.
It was a moment the New Haven Public School District spent months preparing for.
Students in Pre-K through fifth grade returned. Students in Pre-K through third grade will be in class four days a week while students in fourth and fifth grade will be in school two days per week.
"Those are the groups that we think are so much impacted developmentally," Supt. Iline Tracey said.
She she has heard from several parents begging for their children to return. They said how challenging remote learning has been for the younger students.
The district hired outside consultants to look at the ventilation systems in the school and make any necessary improvements. They also secured enough personal protective equipment, have new signage and have a nurse in each building.
The teachers union and other advocacy groups have been pushing back for weeks. They said the district's reopening plan is outdated and incomplete when it comes to infection control, PPE and basic school operations.
"We don't agree with the decision. However, I mean these are professionals," said New Haven Federation of Teachers President David Cicarella.
"We want to make sure we support them as well so that we coordinate with the folks if there's anything that's missing in terms of PPE, any scheduling concerns, anything whatsoever," he added.
Nijija-Ife Waters has a 10-year-old son, Amadi, who suffers from chronic asthma and life-threatening allergies.
She said there are hundreds of students in the district just like Amadi, and she has made repeated attempts, with no avail, to find out what the district is doing to protect those students most vulnerable.
“These children have a right to a free appropriate public education. They should be able to go back into the building, the school be able to ensure that families, regardless if your child will be considered high risk or not, let that be determined by the parents, but let there be something in place so the parent can make a sound, educated guess. Right now parents can’t make that guess. We’re making decisions based on fear. We are afraid,” said Waters.
For example, the school nurse told her she would no longer be able to give Amadi his nebulizer, something that was allowed pre-pandemic. Waters said her son works with a paraprofessional and the school could look into giving them a separate space to learn, but hasn’t.
This morning, Waters organized a protest urging parents not to allow their children to login to online learning in support of children with these kinds of conditions.
The district has given families the option to keep their kids remote. For now, Waters said her son will remain home.
“I want my son to go back but I need to know that he’s going to be safe. And if I’m asking for something in writing, hand it to me in writing, let me see it,” Waters said.
When it comes to protecting teachers with the coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Tracey was told they’ll have to wait while residents 75 and older take priority.
“We received information from the state that we should not yet distribute that information because they do not have enough of the vaccine on hand right now,” she said.
And if a teacher contracts COVID-19 at school, he or she won’t have to use sick time. Tracey said they’ll work with teachers regardless of where they contracted the virus.
“We’ll take each individual situation as it comes to us,“ Tracey said.
Tracey said they’ll see how this phase goes before deciding to bring students in other grades back for in-person learning.
Pre-K through 3rd grade students will attend four full days. Fourth and 5th grade students will alternate and attend school two days a week.