Pandemic, staff shortages push Monroe schools back to remote learning

MONROE, CT — Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza sent an email to families Friday, informing them of the district’s decision for schools to transition to fully remote learning from Monday, Nov. 23, to Friday, Dec. 11.

A spike in COVID-19 cases in town and staffing shortages from the pandemic has made it difficult to run the town’s schools for in-person learning. On Friday, Kobza said Masuk High School had to close early, because 11 staffers were identified as close contacts of people with the virus.

Though very few have gotten COVID, Kobza said teachers and other staff members are missing significant time due to having to quarantine as a result of close contact with someone at school, outside of school or because of a positive case in their own household.

Other times, he said they are forced to stay home to provide childcare, because their out-0f-town school system moved to remote instruction.

“This past week, we experienced days with more than 50 staff members out of work,” Kobza said in the email. “We have tried to reallocate staff around the district to deal with these shortages, but it has come to a point where this is no longer sustainable.”

Prior to the decision, Kobza met with the District Health Team Friday morning. The team consists of School Medical Advisor Dr. Nimrod Dayan, Health Director Nancy Brault, School Nurse Advisor Jo-Ann Perigyi and Assistant Superintendent Jack Ceccolini.

“This team has been meeting weekly to analyze the health metrics and spread of COVID in our community,” Kobza said.

Monroe is currently in the Red Zone on the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s Town Alert System, because it is experiencing a rate of 38.9 positive COVID cases per 100,000 people over a 14 day rolling average, he said.

“Collaborative guidance from the Connecticut State Department of Education and the Department of Public Health indicates that we should move to remote learning,” Kobza said.

“Our aspiration since the beginning of the school year has been to offer as much in-person learning as possible,” he wrote. “We know that our students perform better in all areas when they are provided with live instruction. Our hope is that this temporary transition will be accompanied by  decreasing community spread so we can return to in-person learning as soon as safely possible.”

“We understand the challenge this presents for families. We are constantly monitoring the situation and plan to reassess this decision to help families plan for the coming weeks.”

“Moving to remote instruction until Dec. 11th affords us the opportunity to monitor any changes that may result from the Thanksgiving break. As we observed at Halloween, positive cases do not begin to show in the community for approximately 8-10 days,” he said.

Kobza said a decision for the remainder of December will be made on the evening of Dec. 10, following a state update of local health metrics.

“Our staff has worked incredibly hard to follow the mitigation strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in school,” he said. “Please continue to follow these same measures (masks, social distancing, handwashing, etc…) to help in the effort of returning our students back to school. Additionally,  if your child should become sick or test positive for COVID-19 during this period of remote instruction, please contact the school nurse at your earliest convenience.”

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