DARIEN \u2014 The district will not receive students from Norwalk this fall after the Board of Education voted 5-4 against adopting the Open Choice program for the 2022-23 school year. The decision, which came during a Feb. 1 budget hearing, split mostly down party lines. It also comes after Danbury decided to hold off on implementing its program for another year. Board members David Brown, John Sini, Dennis Maroney, Tara Wurm and vice chair Jill McCammon \u2014 all elected as Republicans \u2014 voted no during the Feb. 1 meeting. One Republican, board chair David Dineen, voted for the program, joining Democrat board members Julie Best, Tara Ochman and Sara Parent. While some board members have pushed against Open Choice in recent budget meetings, top school officials including Superintendent Alan Addley have steadily backed the program. On Tuesday, Addley made a last impassioned plea to the board before it took a vote, calling Open Choice essential. \u201cThis is our opportunity to show our students we are serious about supporting their voices, that we're serious about change and that we're serious about supporting diversity,\u201d Addley said. \u201cThis evening, I ask the board passionately to make a courageous decision to support Darien\u2019s participation in the Open Choice program for the benefit and enrichment of all our Darien students as well as those participating in the program.\u201d The program would have allowed up to 16 kindergartners from Norwalk to attend Darien elementary schools this fall. Historically, the program attracts applicants from underserved racial and economic backgrounds, program officials have said. Yet across countless hours of testimony in recent weeks, parents and opponents of Open Choice have echoed the same message: The program is wrong for Darien. Opponents have cited larger class sizes, unknown future enrollment and a purported financial burden for the district, though officials have said the program is actually a revenue-driver because of state grants. Parents and board members have also said they believed this was the wrong time for Darien to implement the program given the ongoing pandemic and its effects on students. \u201cI think that we need to be leaders in getting our town back to normal because I do not believe that we are anywhere near normal,\u201d board member Tara Wurm said. \u201cNow we need to work on the mental health of our students. Yes, stewardship \u2014 but first to our town.\u201d But several members balked at the issue of timing. The program has been on the table for around two years now, as board members have said in prior meetings. \u201cWe're not going back to normal. We've all said that, we all know that it's going to be a different normal,\u201d board member Julie Best said. \u201cSo we can't wait until we get back to something that we recognize from the before time. I think we have a responsibility to give this a try. I do think the timing is now.\u201d Board member Tara Ochman and Dineen also pointed out state statutory requirements to increase diversity in enrollment. Ochman questioned what happens if the state starts to believe Darien is not actively choosing programs that could help solve diversity enrollment gaps. \u201cI made the argument that we could do it better ourselves if you let us,\u201d Ochman said, referencing her time testifying against regionalization before the state legislature. \u201cThis is a choice program. I think we're gonna have to answer the state if we turn down choice programs because they're going to say, \u2018You said you could do it yourself and now you're not doing it.\u2019\u201d Dineen said he appreciated the conversation around the program in the past few weeks, but asked community members to think critically about Darien\u2019s perception in the state as a white, wealthy town. He also sounded the possibility of bringing back consideration of the program next year. \u201cThis program may come around... I think there's a consensus of the board that would like to continue to look at this program and move it forward,\u201d Dineen said.