Darien teachers plan rally before meeting on in-person classes

Darien's Board of Education building at 35 Leroy Avenue

Darien's Board of Education building at 35 Leroy Avenue

Board of Ed

DARIEN — The president of the teachers union says they are planning to rally Tuesday evening outside the Board of Education building before the panel is set to convene for its meeting.

Union President, Joslyn Delancey said this would be the first time the Darien Education Association has taken this type of action.

Darien schools are scheduled to return to full-time, in-person learning on Sept. 29, according to the district’s plan presented before the start of the school year.

Delancey and the teachers union claim the district has not responded to their concerns about reopening. Delancey said the rally is their last chance to take a stance before the school board is expected to make a decision about in-person learning during the meeting.

“We do not feel our concerns are being heard, and we are hoping that people will notice us and listen. We are hoping that Central Services and (Schools Superintendent Alan Addley) will work with us to revisit our current hybrid plan and our plans to go in full next week,” Delancey said Monday.

“We want safer protocols and practices, guaranteed distancing-especially while eating indoors, and a voice in our instructional practices,” she said.

Addley could not immediately be reached for comment about the rally.

In an op-ed published last week, Delancey said teachers feel like they are “screaming in silos.”

“I have written and rewritten this letter in my mind during the countless nights that I have lost sleep over trying to figure out a way to keep our community safe from the spread and health risks of COVID-19 as well as a way to provide our students with an exemplary education,” she wrote.

Board authority

During last week’s special meeting, Board of Education members had a tense discussion about their authority in terms of endorsing full-time, in-person learning and whether a vote should be taken to approve the final decision for next week.

Watch the meeting on Darien TV 79 Vimeo channel here

The board has previously discussed whether a vote should have been taken on the initial decision to return in a hybrid schedule for the first month. During meetings, some members of the public have criticized the board for not being more involved in the reopening discussions.

Board member John Sini said other boards have been more involved with the decision on reopening. He presented the discussion of whether the board should take a vote on the final decision Tuesday night.

Board secretary Katie Stein pointed out the state has said the authority on reopening rests with the superintendent.

“We’ve done our due diligence. We’ve shown our support. I don’t see what a vote gets us when its the superintendent’s decision,” she said.

Board Chairman Tara Ochman outlined the overriding issue in that the board either abdicated its responsibility by not voting on a the final reopening plan in August or did not show the superintendent its support by doing the same. She acknowledged other boards did vote on the plans but noted she wasn’t sure if those votes actually had any power over the decision.

“I think a vote would have muddled things because it has no authority behind it,” Ochman said.

Board member Debra Ritchie pointed out she was among the first to question why the hybrid plan for the first month was being implemented.

“From there on, there was a very robust discussion with many questions by many board members,” Ritchie said.

In her view, she said the ultimate authority lies with the superintendent and any vote to be held would be symbolic.

“At the beginning, I was apprehensive about the hybrid plan, but now I fully support it and would happily vote for it,” Ritchie said.

Sini acknowledged the superintendent had the authority to make the decision, and reiterated he did not wish to look backward on the initial decision. Instead, the vote for the in-person return on Sept. 29 would be one he looked at as supporting the superintendent’s plan.

Ochman asked Addley how he felt about the vote and if he was supportive.

“I don’t believe the board abdicated any responsibility,” Addley said.

Addley said the continuous discussion of whether to vote risks the possibility of the board opposing something the administration has put a tremendous amount of work into.

Ochman said the board voting on something that isn’t its responsibility sends a confusing message to the public.

Board member Mike Burke said the board has not abdicated its responsibility in any way.

“We ought to be looking forward in this regard and not behind,” he said.

Board Vice Chairman David Dineen said he agreed with Ritchie’s comments that if anything, the vote would be symbolic and show support.

Dineen cautioned that the symbolic vote could become hollow, however, if something changed following the vote, with an increase in cases, that caused the plan to change.

Addley told the board that holding a vote on his decision is putting “into question my trust and my integrity in this district. I’m just telling you.”

“You’re putting my decision making and integrity on the table,” Addley said.

Dineen said the board should take a step back, “take a breath,” and realize the Darien school district is fortunate.

“There are schools that are not open, schools that have no technology, schools that have burned to the ground out west, and people who have died during this time of year,” he said.

“Some of the venom and some of the viciousness — my words — some of these verbal public attacks that we’ve all experienced in this community are getting to the point where they are unacceptable,” Dineen said.

Sini reiterated his only aim was to support the district.

Board member Jill McCammon directly addressed Addley, saying the discussion was about the board’s struggle with governance and not about his integrity.

“If you will allow us some faith to work through that, and realize it’s not about you,” she said.

Stein said she’s run two and half superintendent searches, and “I do not want another superintendent search any time soon. I trust you, Dr. Addley. I appreciate the work you’ve done.”

Addley said he recognized the governance issues, and said his concern was less about his own integrity and that the larger issue is that the vote isn’t helpful to the district.

The Board of Ed meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The agenda can be viewed here.

The meeting is online only for the public. Members of the community can watch the meeting on Darien’s YouTube channel. Those wishing to participate in the public comment portion should join via Zoom.