Naugatuck school staff get vaccine

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

Linda Gregg, a nurse at Andrew Avenue Elementary School, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Mary Schone, a school counselor at Andrew Avenue Elementary School, during a vaccination clinic for Naugatuck school staff March 6 at Naugatuck High School. -LARAINE WESCHLER/NAUGATUCK PUBLIC SCHOOLS

NAUGATUCK — Hundreds of Naugatuck Public Schools employees received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine March 6.

Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini said about 500 people were vaccinated at the clinic, which was run with the Naugatuck Valley Health District at Naugatuck High School.

“We are grateful for the partnership with NVHD and that our dedicated front-line teachers and staff are now being vaccinated,” Montini said.

There were some school bus drivers and local day care workers that received a vaccine at the clinic as well, but he said most of the 500 people were school staff. There are about 750 employees in the district, he said.

“There was optimism in the air and people feeling that we are turning the corner,” Montini said as he gave an update to the Board of Education on March 11.

Employees received the Moderna vaccine, which requires two doses to be effective. Staff who received their first dose March 6 can get their second dose at a clinic on April 3.

The push to vaccinate school employees across the state comes after Gov. Ned Lamont in late February switched to an age-based approach for administering vaccines. The only exceptions to the age-based approach were school workers and child care providers.

A few school employees who work in the central office and for adult education are not yet eligible to be vaccinated under the state’s plan, Montini said. All of the eligible staff who wanted a vaccine were provided with the opportunity at the clinic, he said.

Some Naugatuck school employees may have already received a vaccine before the clinic because they were eligible due to their age or being a health care provider, such as school nurses.

George Macary, an applied education teacher at Naugatuck High School and president of the Naugatuck teachers’ union, was among the employees to get vaccinated March 6.

“I’m pretty happy that I got it,” said Macary, adding the process was fast and painless.

Macary said he thinks teachers overall view getting vaccinated as a positive step.

“A lot of feeling that we survived and now we’re going to move forward,” Macary said.

In a statement, Coleen Grommisch, president of the union that represents non-certified employees in the district, said the union was grateful to the school administration and NVHD in running the vaccine clinic. The union represents over 200 paraeducators, secretaries, custodians, cafeteria workers and security personnel.

“We appreciate all of their efforts to ensure the safety of all employees, and ultimately, of all of our students,” Grommisch said in the statement.

As the state’s vaccination effort continues and COVID-19 trends in the state point in a more positive direction, school officials are planning to increase in-person learning at City Hill Middle School and Naugatuck High School beginning March 29.

Since October, students in grades K-6 have been attending school in-person for full days four days a week with an early dismissal on Fridays.

Middle school and high school students, though, have been following a hybrid model. They are split into two groups and attend in-person two days a week and every other Friday.

Officials are planning to increase in-person instruction at City Hill to five days a week.

Montini told the school board this will likely mean about nine classrooms will have to be moved to larger spaces to accommodate for social distancing. In other cases, he said the distances between students may be reduced from the present 6 feet but not any less than 3 feet. If this is done, he said, parents will be notified.

“We believe that we can do this safely or we wouldn’t be doing it,” Montini said.

The plan for Naugatuck High is to extend dismissal time from 12:30 p.m. to 12:55 p.m. and bring 75% of in-person learners back to school each day. Cohorts of students will learn remotely one day each week, as well as one additional Friday a month.

High school students can sign up for extra help from 1:25 p.m. to 2 p.m. and stay at the high school. These students will eat lunch at the school — those that leave at 12:55 p.m. will get lunch to take home — and transportation will be provided at 2 p.m.

Fridays have been early dismissal days since school started and will remain so the rest of the year. All students also have the option to distance learn at home full time. As of last week, 1,441 students, or about 33% of students in the district, were remote learning at home.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.