SHELTON — Inadequate staffing — with an inability to cover nearly half of the 81 staffers who were out Tuesday alone — prompted district officials to move all city schools to full distance learning until January, Interim Superintendent Beth Smith said.

Smith announced Tuesday that all schools would shift to full remote instruction beginning Wednesday and will last until at least January when Ken Saranich will be elevated to superintendent.

“The decision to move schools in the district to full distance learning was not taken lightly,” Smith said Wednesday in a statement to parents and staff.

On Monday, five employees tested positive for COVID, 35 needed to quarantine, six were waiting for test results, 14 were out on long-term leave and 23 were out for other reasons, Smith said. Twenty-five staff assignments did not have substitutes on Monday.

On Tuesday, seven employees tested positive for COVID, 36 needed to quarantine, five were waiting for test results, 14 were out on long-term leave and 19 were out for other reasons. Thirty-seven staff assignments — 46 percent — did not have substitutes on Tuesday.

“Due to isolation and quarantine regulations,” Smith said, “this trend is projected to last for several weeks.”

Overall, 38 school community members have tested positive for the virus since in-person classes resumed in September.

“The district understands our students learn best when they are in school with our talented staff,” Smith said. “The district is also acutely aware of the social emotional needs of the Shelton Public Schools community, including those of staff, students and parents. The increasing positive COVID-19 cases have affected the district’s ability to safely keep our schools open and adequately staffed; therefore, the decision was made to move to full distance learning.”

Considering the holidays are approaching with college students returning home, Smith said officials believed the increasing trend of COVID cases would continue and they wanted to give families a consistent schedule.

“The decision was made to stay in full distance learning until at least January for parent planning purposes,” Smith said.

Smith refuted social media claims that Mayor Mark Lauretti ordered the move because there were not enough bus drivers available through the city-owned Shelton Student Transportation Services.

“The mayor had no part in this decision, and Shelton Student Transportation Services was not consulted,” Smith said. “The decision was based solely on inadequate staffing in the district.”

The elementary schools have been holding in-class learning four days a week on an early-release schedule. Perry Hill School started that same schedule Tuesday before the district changed course.

"There has been a fairly consistent trend of increasing positive cases of COVID-19 affecting the Shelton Public Schools community with 18 cases in November alone, 11 occurring since Sunday,” Smith added.

Principals have been covering teacher assignments to keep schools open, according to Smith, and the school nurses were spending time during the day, after school and in the evenings conducting contact tracing.

“The operations of the district became focused on dealing with all aspects of this pandemic, rather than teaching and learning and the delivery of instruction,” Smith said.

In order to address our staffing needs, the district began to place certain classrooms, grades, dyads and schools on full distance learning on a temporary basis, days and weeks at a time.

“Those necessary decisions put a strain on our parent community, especially those who needed day care,” Smith said. “There were increasing parent requests to provide a succinct schedule for family planning purposes. In addition, there was a growing need to keep students in a scheduled routine.”

Food distribution of breakfast and lunch will continue. Meals can be picked up between 9 and 11 a.m. Thursday and 5 to 6 p.m. Friday in the Shelton High School bus loop.

Starting Monday, meals will be offered Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, at the Shelton High School bus loop and at the Long Hill Elementary School front entrance. Evening meal pickup will continue on Tuesday and Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Shelton High School bus loop only. On Friday, breakfast and lunch for Saturday and Sunday will be distributed at both sites.

“I ask that everyone continue to do your part to help mitigate the spread of this virus when you are out in the community and at social gatherings,” Smith said. “Please wear your masks over your nose and mouth at all times when not at home and practice social distancing and hand hygiene. It will take a community to get us back to in-building instruction.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com