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Julia Perkins | Aug. 4, 2021 | Updated: Aug. 4, 2021 5:07 p.m.
DANBURY — Danbury schools have hired 120 certified staff members and ordered about 3,000 desks to prepare for the new school year.
But about four weeks away from the first day of classes, questions remain about issues like masks. Danbury and other districts are awaiting direction from the state after federal guidance last week recommended masks for all inside schools, regardless of vaccination status.
“The district is not in a position to make any decisions regarding masks and what exactly the reopening is going to look like,” interim Superintendent Kevin Walston said at a Monday special school board meeting. “What I can reassure the community is our buildings will be reopening in the fall. We will be fully reopening.”
Danbury’s big picture idea to safely fit all roughly 12,000 students into the crowded buildings hasn’t changed much since the board approved a plan last spring.
The district is renting a vacant Catholic school in Brookfield — now known as the Danbury Primary Center — for 11 sections of kindergarten.
The district purchased more than $500,000 in furniture and renovated some buildings, Walston said. Students should be at least three feet apart, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.
The high school moved to an eight-period day, to help reduce class sizes. Fifteen high school and 14 elementary teachers were added.
So far, the district has hired 120 certified and 18 noncertified staff members, including a new principal at Hayestown Elementary School and interim principal at the Danbury Primary Center, Walston said.
Town hall meetings with parents will be held next week to get feedback on the plan. A reopening committee that includes the hospital, health director and labor units, will meet the week of Aug. 16. The school board will vote on a final plan on Aug. 25.
At the Brookfield school, the district is working on a $200,000 renovation to the basement to add three classrooms for music, art, special education and English as a second language, said Richard Jalbert, coordinator of sites and facilities. New floors and a burglar alarm are being installed, too.
The district ordered $650,000 in furniture for that school. This includes 240 desks for students, as well as a desk and bookcase for each teacher, he said.
Kindergartners going to the school in Brookfield would have gone to Ellsworth Avenue, Stadley Rough or South Street elementary schools.
Parents have requested bus monitors for kindergartners, which the district hopes to add at a $350,000 to $400,000 cost. Walston said he thinks the district can afford this because of furniture cost savings.
In other schools, some cabinets were removed to add space for social distancing. This includes four rooms at Stadley Rough Elementary School and one or two rooms at Park Avenue Elementary School, Jalbert said.
At King Street Intermediate School, the district is building a partition wall between media center and classroom to create two distinct spaces, he said. His team is building a quarantine room in the nurse’s office to free up office space.
Space restrictions were among the reasons Danbury could not return full-time last school year. But so far registrations are matching district expectations, Walston said.
King Street has reached capacity in kindergarten, although Danbury and other districts anticipated higher enrollment in that grade this fall due to families holding their kids back last year.
“Across the rest of the district, we’re actually in pretty good shape so far,” Walston said.
The district is strongly encouraging eligible students get vaccinated for COVID-19, especially as the highly contagious delta variant spreads across the state.
Beginning Monday, vaccine clinics will be held at five schools for students ages 12 and over, their families and anyone in the community. Two clinics will be held at each of the selected schools, spaced 21 days a part for patients to get their first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine, said Kathy O’Dowd, coordinator of health and nursing services.
The school-based health centers have offered vaccines throughout the summer and will continue to do so, she said.
“That’s our most important mitigation strategy right now,” O’Dowd said.
The CDC considers Fairfield County to have “substantial” COVID-19 spread because it’s had at least 50 new daily cases per 100,000 people over seven days.
Danbury, however, has averaged about three new daily cases per 100,000 people over 14 days, said Kara Prunty, acting health director.
“We’re still at a relatively low community transmission rate, which is good,” she said.
About 47 percent of Danbury residents 12 to 18 are vaccinated, she said.
“We still have some work to do in getting more people vaccinated, which again, is the best prevention mechanism,” Prunty said.