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620,000 COVID-19 test kits sent to schools as state officials double down on in-person learning

A Meriden parent launched an online petition asking the state to offer remote learning option.

HAMDEN, Conn. — For the second day in a row, some school districts across the state struggled to open amid staff and bus driver shortages.

Elsewhere, state leaders took to Zoom to address those issues and outline their revised safety guidance for in-person learning.

Hamden High School was one of the schools closed Tuesday due to a staff shortage from COVID-19 cases and exposures. State leaders said they are sympathetic to districts dealing with staffing shortages but they did not provide any flexibility for remote learning options.

Connecticut hit a record of nearly 24% infection rate on Tuesday – the percentage is almost certainly much higher in reality due to home test kit results not being reported to state health officials.

“To be blunt we have a higher infection rate,” said Gov. Ned Lamont.

RELATED: COVID relief program for Connecticut's essential workers launches

The governor announced the state has distributed 670,000 COVID-19 rapid self-tests to public and private K-12 schools and early childcare providers statewide.

The allocation is the first phase of his administration’s distribution of self-tests for schools and early childcare providers, and he anticipates additional allocations to be announced in the coming days as the state continues securing more tests from vendors.

However, Connecticut officials are doubling down on full in-person school learning.

“The most important difference between now and then is we have even more tools to keep yourself safe,” Lamont said.

It’s true, the state has vaccines that weren’t available for most of 2020. There are better masks and test kits that didn’t exist at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but now the Omicron variant is running rampant.

“If my 6-year-old goes to school and brings that home and I end up getting COVID, I’m at higher risk for serious complications than someone else who doesn’t have health complications,” said Tiffany Torok, a Meriden mother of two.

Torok is immunocompromised and started an online petition urging the state to offer a remote learning option. It has been signed by nearly 5,000 people so far.

“I’m not saying to take away in school learning. I also believe that in school learning is the best option. However, what I am saying is that parents should have the option to keep their children home and do remote learning while the numbers are so high with COVID,” she explained.

Those COVID rates continued to wreak havoc on districts Tuesday. From Ansonia to Hamden schools were shut down and bus routes were canceled.

That’s despite new guidance from the state that shortens quarantine times and cancels contact tracing.

“Rather what we are doing is letting classrooms know that somebody in that classroom has had COVID 19,” said Dr. Manisha Juthani, the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

Teachers have been telling FOX61 that even though they are in person, student absences are making it impossible to advance instructional curriculum in a meaningful way.

FOX61 brought this concern to state leaders. It got them thinking.

“Matt Caron’s question had me thinking about the fact that our schools are open,” Lamont said. “I think we’ve got our schools open safely but there are still some kids not coming into the classroom and how that makes teaching complicated, especially new material.”

Charlene Russel-Tucker, the Commissioner of the Connecticut Dept of Education added: “I understand clearly. You don’t want to leave many kids before, which is why you really want them there in the classroom.”

RELATED: List of COVID testing kit distributions by town in Connecticut

The governor did say that the in-school mask mandate will remain in place at least into February.

With regard to remote learning, state leaders went on to clarify that there are some instances when that would be allowed. For example, if a student tests positive for COVID or if they are medically compromised.

However, anything else would require districts to make up those days at the end of the year.

Matt Caron is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at mcaron@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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