New Milford school volunteers required to vaccinate or have negative COVID test

Photo of Currie Engel

NEW MILFORD — Volunteers will have to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test when working in-person with students at schools, the Board of Education decided in a 5-4 vote Tuesday night.

The new policy requires volunteers to meet the same vaccination and testing requirements school staff follow under state mandate.

The board also voted 8-1 for an updated and amended COVID-19 staff vaccination policy.

In August, Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order requiring all state employees, child care, and school staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing. State hospital and long-term care employees were not given a testing option.

Megan Byrd, mother of seventh-grade twins and Schaghticoke Middle School Parent Teacher Organization president, said she expected a contentious vote, and was glad the plan passed.

“I feel that any mitigation strategy that we can put in place to ensure that there’s not as much spread in the schools is worth doing,” she said.

Just this week, New Milford schools reported some of the highest student COVID-19 infection numbers in the Danbury area, with 18 active cases between the five district schools. Other districts have been reporting single-digit case loads.

School board Chairwoman Wendy Faulenbach said the board was not proposing a vaccine mandate. It just wanted volunteers to follow the same policy teachers and staff already follow: either providing vaccination status or getting tested.

Political policies

Before the vote, Faulenbach explained her position.

“I am not going to debate the executive order, government, CDC stats because they all have merit, and we've all taken this very seriously,” she said.

For Faulenbach, after a month of discussions, it was time to compromise.

“I am going to support this policy, and I think that we listened, we’ve taken it as far as we can, and we are offering options.”

The vote, which came nearly two hours into the meeting, was prefaced by speeches both for and against the proposed policy.

Newly reelected Town Councilman Mike Nahom said the policy would be a burden on the unvaccinated and a privacy intrusion for the vaccinated.

“It’s a medical decision between an individual and their doctor, and this country now has gotten completely away from that,” he said.

Board member Pete Helmus was concerned about the cost burden of requiring a negative test. He called the potential costs incurred by volunteers trying to meet testing requirements a “tax.”

But Faulenbach said the district is working out a plan to pick up the cost.

“That’s a very valid point, and that was taken into consideration,” she said.

Board member Eric Hansell voted against the policy, saying such an endorsement would represent “potentially an action that violates the Constitution.”

“In this case, we shouldn't worry about the safety of our children if data does not support there being a threat to our children,” he said.

Ultimately, a slim majority of members approved the proposal.

Brian McCauley said it would “fill a gap” the state missed in its ruling on teacher vaccinations.

“Our children have absolutely no choice about who they're exposed to in our schools,” said Tammy McInerny, another board member who voted for the policy.

“I do not think it’s uncalled for to ask for them to be vaccinated or to test, especially now that we're going to picking up the cost of testing.”