WILTON \u2014 All in-person learning is being delayed until Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day, the Board of Education unanimously decided in a special meeting held Tuesday afternoon. While both the board and Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith were somewhat careful about tiptoeing around two largely publicized incidents last weekend involving large groups of Wilton High School seniors and other school-aged children \u2014 along with their families \u2014 that assembled in public parks without exercising safe protocol, this clearly played a key role in the decision. Smith said that in consultation with Barrington Bogle, director of health, it was noted that 14 days would have elapsed from last Sunday before students returned to classrooms. Bogle\u2019s recommendation was to put the hybrid learning model on hold for a week or postpone the school start date of Aug. 31, which Smith said would have been extremely costly and demanded extending the calendar an additional week out in June. In a lengthy explanation of his decision and thinking process, Smith said many amongst his teachers were expressing great fear about the new school year, in part because they need more time to embrace the new technologies being used but also because of health concerns. More than 1,000 people tuned in to the 5 p.m. board meeting Tuesday, according to Chair Deborah Low, who refused to let \u201csix or seven\u201d public comment emails be read that came in before the meeting started because she claimed they included information that identified students in relation to the weekend incidents. \u201cI consider it personally identifiable information and so as a school board we do not read public comment that might be considered a confidential public record,\u201d she said. A couple of comments got through, however, with one Wilton High school teacher, Lara Fayek, stating that she is doing her part to help schools reopen safely and expects the community to do likewise by practicing mitigation strategies. \u201cI am keeping up my end of the bargain \u2026 My fear is that the Wilton community \u2026 will not uphold their end of the bargain,\u201d she wrote. \u201cThis is frightening to me,\u201d one parent wrote regarding last weekend\u2019s incidents. \u201cThere need to be consequences to those who do not comply,\u201d she wrote. In approving Smith\u2019s recommendation, however, other board members stressed that they weren\u2019t voting because of direct concerns relating to health and safety, but to give teachers more time to get acclimated. \u201cThis isn\u2019t really a health issue because of what our kids have been doing,\u201d member Jennifer Lalor said. \u201cIt\u2019s really that we\u2019re just not ready.\u201d \u201cThat\u2019s what I want people to understand,\u201d she said. \u201cThe comfort level of the teachers, I think, is very important,\u201d said member Gretchen Jeanes. \u201cWe\u2019re hearing our teachers loud and clear,\u201d member Mandi Schmauch said. In the overview of his recommendation, Smith did highlight concerns he wanted everyone to be aware of relating to COVID case numbers. \u201cThe trend in Wilton right now is worrisome,\u201d he said, noting five new cases over the last six days, which in essence doubled the town\u2019s previous monthly average. \u201cAlso, we have to kind of look over our shoulders a little bit at Danbury,\u201d Low said. \u201cDanbury\u2019s numbers are concerning.\u201d Smith shared his sympathy with families and acknowledged the difficulties the change may cause, but likewise he defended the decision, citing the enormity and complexity of the situation. \u201cWe\u2019re in a pandemic\u2026 It\u2019s exceptionally challenging,\u201d he said, stressing there was no playbook for executing an ideal reopening. \u201cI see my role as shepherding our administrative team, our teachers, our families, toward that common goal of providing and participating in a public education experience that is, number one, safe for all stakeholders, and \u2014 number two \u2014 of very high quality,\u201d Smith said. \u201cThat\u2019s been the mission from day one and that mission hasn\u2019t changed,\u201d he said. \u201cWhat has changed is that we\u2019re in the midst of a global pandemic and there is no playbook for responding to these conditions that are on the ground today.\u201d Also avoiding direct comment on the recent incidents, Smith stressed there was a \u201cshared obligation,\u201d and noted that in order for the schools to expand to a full in-person model it was necessary that students and their families do their part. \u201cThat\u2019s everybody, and nobody gets a time out from that,\u201d he said. \u201cIt\u2019s our civic and moral duty,\u201d Smith said. \u201cIf we don\u2019t, than we don\u2019t get to have the kind of in-person schooling that we\u2019re hoping for.\u201d Questions were brought up about whether the technology infrastructure \u2014 in particular the new Schoology program \u2014 is going to be ready for use and reliable. \u201cAs a parent, I haven\u2019t had much confidence in the technology that we\u2019ve been rolling out,\u201d Schmauch said. \u201cIt doesn\u2019t seem like we\u2019re technologically there \u2026 Is it gonna work?\u201d Smith said technology is always a wild card during a normal year, and noted that teachers have back-up plans, as well as back-up technologies to use. Still, he said in summarizing his recommendation, \u201cThis is an extraordinarily heavy lift.\u201d \u201cI think it\u2019s important to name the complexity and the challenge that we\u2019ve placed in front of our teachers,\u201d he said.