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Some schools sound the alarm on severe staffing shortages

Waterbury Public Schools reported more than 340 staff members and 45 bus drivers called out sick on Monday.

NEWINGTON, Conn. — The first day of the week was riddled with anxiety for many across the state as school districts grappled with the spike in COVID-19 cases, new guidance from health officials, and transportation issues as students returned to classes after the holiday break.

The state Department of Public Health released its newest guidance for quarantine, isolation, testing, and contact tracing and procedures for Pre-K- 12 schools. At the same time, union leaders voiced their safety concerns for its members amid a surge of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

“As far as right now, all of our schools are going to be open,” remarked Gov. Ned Lamont.

RELATED: COVID-19 staffing issues lead to school delays, closings across the state

Except on Monday, Hamden, Stonington and Region 14 were just some of the districts crippled by staffing shortages.

“I will tell you, we had over 100 kids become COVID positive over the holiday break,” said Newington Schools Superintendent Dr. Maureen Brummett.

Newington also had 15 staff out sick. They say it could have been a lot more and credit the state’s new guidance which reduces quarantine time to five days.

That guidance also recommends schools discontinue contact tracing.

“It didn’t yield us a lot of fruit,” explained Dr. Brummett. “People were quarantined based on being a close contact but they weren’t becoming COVID positive, so they were missing school for really no good reason.”

But in Waterbury, the third-largest district in the state, they haven’t yet implemented the state’s new policies.

“We are going to follow the same protocol we were following prior to the new guidance coming out until we get clarification on how we are to implement the new guidance,” Superintendent, Dr. Verna Ruffin said.

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Ruffin told FOX61 that 340 staff were out sick Monday, district-wide. There were also dozens of bus drivers sick.

“Being 45 drivers short is definitely an issue,” said Ruffin.

Most schools did reopen Monday, but still without N95 masks and rapid test kits.

“Everything that we thought we would already have. The testing, the kits and everything was delayed,” explained Dr. Ruffin.

RELATED: State issues updated COVID-19 guidance for schools

Schools also reopened amid a concerning COVID surge. The last week of data available shows 1,021 students and 293 staff tested positive. A concern that prompted this letter from union educational leaders calling for more stringent safety protocols including more aggressive testing, requiring N95 masks to be worn by all, and prohibiting combining classes.

“Yes, some of our schools are extremely short-staffed. Extremely short-staffed. They are still resilient. They are still hanging in there and this is a situation that no one could have envisioned two years ago. And still it’s hard to envision that it’s really happening today,” said Dr. Ruffin.


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