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Julia Perkins | May 13, 2021 Updated: May 13, 2021 11:47 a.m.
Danbury schools to open fully in fall, including use of Brookfield school for kindergarten
DANBURY — The school board has approved a plan that will get all students back in school full-time in the fall.
The board voted unanimously on Wednesday evening to support the administration’s $5.98 million proposal to lease a Catholic school in Brookfield, purchase additional furniture and hire more staff to accommodate the roughly 12,000 student body in the district’s overcrowded buildings.
“Of course, we need to fully reopen schools, no doubt in my mind,” board member Rachel Chaleski said. “That's been the message from the state level all year long. I’m glad we’re making it work.”
Under the plan, about 240 kindergartners from three elementary schools with the tightest space constrictions will be bused to St. Joseph Catholic Academy in Brookfield, a Catholic school that closed last year.
About 37 employees would be hired to staff the Brookfield school and move the high school to an eight-period day that would reduce class sizes.
Desks will be purchased at the elementary and secondary schools to allow students to be the three feet apart in the classrooms, per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Heated tents are also needed to extend the cafeteria at the high school and potentially Broadview Middle School.
Danbury schools will not offer distance learning on a regular basis, although Chaleski argued virtual instruction should not fall by the wayside.
“I’m not suggesting that it remain in its current form just that we should recognize the innovation of what happened,” she said. “When we first launched DL [distance learning], I thought this would change education forever.”
She suggested virtual learning be used to mitigate learning loss over the summer.
The district is exploring how to use technology moving forward, said Kara Casimiro, the director of teaching and learning. This could mean offering virtual after-school programs. This would make these programs accessible to students at home who cannot stay after school because they don’t have a ride home, she said.
“It’s convenient for the teacher,” Casimiro said. “It's convenient for the students. We’re likely to get more engagement.”
It’s possible the district could offer remote learning in lieu of snow days, although the state has not said whether this will be allowed, Superintendent Sal Pascarella said. The board could decide to offer the first few inclement weather days as traditional snow days, but move to distance learning for others, he said.
“We don’t have air conditioning in the schools,” he said. “It’s very difficult late June, so that’s an issue for us.”
Danbury students were on full distance learning for about half the school year due to concerns about COVID-19 and are on the hybrid model for the rest of this year. Thirty-five percent of students opted to remain on full-time distance learning.
“It's really all about the balance of the virtual use,” Casimiro said. “I think we were at a point where the pendulum had swung so severely. It’s really about where can we instill innovative practice in our teaching and learning environments that maximize what we’re trying to do, using the digital technology that we’ve now become familiar with.”