‘I can tell you that all of our schools are open’: Lamont stands firm on stance

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Gov. Ned Lamont and state Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker field reporter questions in November about the $1.5 million Voice4Change competition involving 77 high schools across Connecticut. Paul Hughes Republican-American

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday again ruled out giving school districts the option of switching to remote instruction as record numbers of students and school employees are testing positive for COVID-19.

A coalition of unions representing 60,000 public school teachers and other workers released survey results Tuesday showing overwhelming support for giving school superintendents the flexibility to move to virtual learning for a short period of time without requiring remote days be made up.

Lamont reiterated he has no intention of making remote instruction an option and modifying state law again so remote learning days do not have to be counted toward the statutory requirement for a 180-day school year.

“I can tell you that all of our schools are open, and not many states are able to make that case,” he said during a virtual news briefing.

A record 7,612 students and 2,388 school staff members tested positive for COVID-19 in the latest weekly reporting period that ended Jan. 6 amid another statewide surge in infections. The next weekly update is due Thursday.

In Waterbury, school officials shifted the city’s five public high schools and three middle schools to half days this week to combat staffing shortages. Some 347 of the school district’s 2,736 employees were out of work Tuesday, with 241 testing positive for COVID-19. There were also 15 school bus drivers out of work.

When informed of the situation in Waterbury, Lamont said he believes that a half day of in-person instruction beats a full-day of remote instruction.

“A, it is not ideal. B, it is a lot better than learning via Zoom. I think we’ve found that out. I tried to suggest, I hope we’re bending the curve, so to speak, in terms of more people coming back to work than people infected and leaving,” he said.

The Board of Education Union Coalition reported Tuesday that 88% of the 5,500 teachers, paraprofessionals, school bus drivers and monitors, custodians, nurses, and support staff who responded to its recent survey support a short-term remote learning option.

The Lamont administration has told schools that remote learning will only be allowed on a class-by-class basis when there are significant COVID-19 infections. Exceptions are allowed for students in special circumstances, such as a medical condition that makes them or a family member unusually susceptible to the virus.

The union survey also found 62% of responding school employees reported they do not have the supplies and protocols in place to feel safe performing their jobs, including masks and testing.

WATERBURY, CT. –Parents pick up their children at Generali Elementary School in Waterbury last week. The parents were told because of bus shortages there would be a delay in bus service. Only 1 bus was present at dismissal. Steven Valenti Republican-American

Lamont said he believes the actions that have been taken are protecting students and school staff. He pointed to the state’s distribution of 620,000 COVID-19 tests to private and public schools and 6 million N95 masks to state residents.

“Right now, I think it is working. I appreciate there are teachers who want us to do more, and every day we are going to try to do more,” he said.

State health officials on Tuesday reported 6,751 new cases of COVID-19, and a daily positivity rate of nearly 24% based on 28,312 newly reported molecular and antigen test results. There now have been 611,687 cases reported in the state outbreak.

There was a net increase of 31 patients hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 1,920 statewide. The patient count Tuesday was 52 shy of the pandemic high recorded back in April 2020, six weeks into the state’s outbreak.

There were 663 patients hospitalized in New Haven County and 513 patients hospitalized in Hartford County, new daily pandemic highs for the two counties. There were 497 patients hospitalized in Fairfield County.

State health official reported 1,292 of the patients hospitalized Tuesday were not fully vaccinated.

More than 3.2 million state residents have received at least a first vaccine dose, more than 2.6 million are fully vaccinated, and more than 1.1 million have received a booster dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.