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New Britain High school students will return to in-person classes Thursday

The school planned on having remote learning through the week following vandalism and fighting incidents.

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. — In a quick turn of events, students at New Britain High School will not be transitioning to remote learning for the rest of the week.

Both the city’s mayor and the school’s principal said Wednesday that students will be back for in-person classes on Thursday – fewer than 24 hours after a letter sent to parents triggered widespread confusion and condemnation.

Principal Damon Pearce first sent a letter to parents Tuesday night saying that because of ongoing violence and vandalism by students, the school would be moving to remote learning for the rest of the week.

In an updated letter to New Britain families, Pearce accepted the responsibility that his initial letter caused confusion and they have listened to community feedback. He said students would return to in-person learning on Thursday, however, there will be early dismissal the rest of the week so staff can implement its plan “for improving the climate at New Britain High School.”

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“These are unprecedented times, and our priority is always the safety and security of all students and staff,” he said in his letter. “My promise to you is that I will endeavor to improve my communication practice in the future.”

Pearce invited community members to participate in the Superintendent’s Town Hall that was already scheduled for Wednesday at 6 p.m.

In the letter that triggered the firestorm, Pearce said that while the vast majority of students have adjusted well to the new school year, some have not.

“Because of this, we are hitting the refresh button and restarting the beginning of the school year,” he wrote in the letter.

The state Department of Education said in a statement that the school district's actions were in conflict with state guidance that does not recommend schools move to remote learning.

"CSDE is in communication with the district, and the Department is providing intentional support in response to the districts’ identified behavioral health needs," the statement said. "CSDE continues to be committed to ensuring all students in Connecticut have the best educational experience possible, and the data says that means it's best if students learn in person. We're grateful for the hard work of our educators and administrators who have worked to make this a reality."

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On Wednesday, Mayor Erin Stewart issued a strongly-worded statement, saying she was disappointed in the decision made by school officials as it was “not fair to the majority of students who behave respectfully and wanted to be in school to learn.”

She went on to say that any student who does not follow the rules should face real consequences, including being removed from school.

“If the school district cannot get these behavior problem (sic) is under control, then they need to find new and more effective leadership who can,” Stewart said in her Facebook page. “Our students deserve to learn in a safe environment, our parents deserve the comfort knowing that their child is safe in school, and our teachers deserve a safe space to educate.”

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The letter on Tuesday came a few days after Superintendent Nancy Sarra sent a letter to New Britain parents warning against a TikTok trend that "encouraged vandalism".

"Unfortunately, here in New Britain, we have seen students participate in this challenge at our middle schools and high schools. Administrators are aware and are responding to the situations as they occur. However, this challenge is not unique to New Britain," said Sarra.

The trend reportedly encouraged middle, high school, and college students to steal things such as fire extinguishers, soap dispensers, and other items, according to Sarra. The point was to film it and post it onto the social media app.

Pearce also asks parents to talk to their students about acceptable and appropriate behavior in school.

The full letter can be found here.

Joshua Oculam is an assignment editor at FOX61 News. He can be reached at joculam@fox61.com

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