Superintendent: 'Curtail community activities' so Darien schools can stay open

Schools Superintendent Alan Addley, left, urged the community to curtail social gatherings if Darien wants to continue in-person school learning. David Dineen, right, was elected the new chairman of the Board of Ed Tuesday night.

Schools Superintendent Alan Addley, left, urged the community to curtail social gatherings if Darien wants to continue in-person school learning. David Dineen, right, was elected the new chairman of the Board of Ed Tuesday night.

Darien School District

DARIEN — Superintendent of Schools Alan Addley has a message for parents: “If you want your children to stay in school, you need to curtail community activities.”

Addley spoke Tuesday night during the Board of Education meeting as COVID-19 cases have continued to rise in the district and around the state.

The meeting was presided over by Chairman David Dineen, who was appointed Tuesday night, replacing former Chairman Tara Ochman. Debra Ritchie was appointed vice chairman and Jill McCammon was selected as secretary.

Addley said “community gatherings” have been a factor to the district’s COVID cases. There are 23 active cases with 340 people quarantined.

“What we are seeing right now, the spread is coming from community gatherings,” Addley said.

“It is exactly working against keeping the children in school, and not being supportive of the teaching staff.”

Addley urged residents who prioritize in-person learning to take precautions with their outside of school activities.

“I know sometimes we can’t help ourselves, but we really need to try,” he said.

His comments were echoed by Dr. Timothy Kenefick, the district’s medical advisor.

“We are seeing that schools are not a drier of cases. I urge all families to be mindful of their activities if they value in-person learning. These cases are just going to increase,” Kenefick said.

He added that it was understandable that people became complacent over the summer because cases remained low.

“The good news is that the schools are not driving community or school infections, but community activities may affect in-person learning,” Kenefick said.

“You think you are taking a small risk, but if you take a small risk 20 times a week, it is no longer a small risk” Kenefick said.

Darien schools opened in a hybrid format for the first month of school, with in-person learning commencing Sept. 29. Many parents were critical during the hybrid month of the both the decision to delay in-person learning and the hybrid teaching format.

According to the town’s COVID-19 info page, there have been 19 Darien cases reported by the state since Oct. 29.

Board member Katie Stein said some residents have questioned the need to quarantine for 14 days.

Kenefick said that remains the amount of time recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and said in some cases, those infected can shed the virus for even longer.

Ritchie asked about how the district insures that those in quarantine remain so during their allotted time.

Director of Nursing Alicia Casucci said the schools have teachers on alert as to when students are expected to return, and so far, no students have had to be sent home. But she said it is harder to manage outside of school.

“We’ve explained exactly what quarantine means. Younger kids can go outside and play in their own yard, but not with other kids. They can’t go to the grocery store with their parents. They are expected to stay home,” she said.

As far as returning to full remote learning, Addley said it’s a multi-pronged process but he would prioritize the safety of staff and students.

In a letter to the school community Sunday night, Addley and Casucci said the school district had five new confirmed and one presumed case reported over the weekend. Two cases were at Darien High School, two at Middlesex Middle School and one case at Holmes School. The presumed case was at Royle School.

The email also noted that the “frequency and increase of COVID cases is concerning.”

“The safety of our students and staff remains our highest priority. In consultation with our medical advisors, the district continues to assess the appropriate learning model in consideration of state and local guidelines. Should it be necessary, the district stands ready to transition to hybrid or remote learning,” the statement said.

Last Thursday, Darien officials, including Addley, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, Director of Health David Knauf, and Ochman, issued a joint release warning Darien residents of the risks and asking everyone to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19.

Darien is at the “orange” level in the state color map for COVID-19, meaning there have been an average of 10 to 14 daily cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period.

Most Fairfield County municipalities are orange, with Stamford, Norwalk, Danbury, Bethel and Bridgeport in the red zone at 15 or more daily cases per 100,000 residents.

On Monday, it was reported the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, prevented more than 90 percent of infections in a study of tens of thousands of volunteers, the most encouraging scientific advance so far in the battle against the coronavirus.