On July 1, 2020

What reopened school will look like in the fall

By Curt Peterson

The Agency of Education and the Dept. of Health issued long-awaited guidelines for the reopening Vermont schools this fall on June 17.

The 25-page report “A Strong and Healthy Start, Safety and Health Guidance for Reopening Schools, Fall 2020” warned that, “This guidance will be periodically updated as new information becomes available.”

The guidance is written for administrators and teachers. Health officials warn the coronavirus will be with us until a vaccine is available, so the report outlines three steps for decreasing infection by Covid-19 December.

The governor closed schools March 17, directing students to learn remotely with teachers broadcasting over the internet from their homes or from the nearest wifi “hotspot” to their homes.

Windsor Central Unified Union School District operated in Step I, students learning remotely, all spring. Guidance anticipates reopening the schools at Step II in the fall.

What does this mean for parents and students?

Let’s take two students, we’ll call them Erik and Heather.

Last fall Erik and a few neighbor kids waited for the bus. They fooled around, jostling a little. The bus door opened and the cadre climbed aboard, continuing their banter while riding cheek-by-jowl.

At Woodstock the bus unloaded, and the students paraded into the building and to their first classrooms.

Fall of 2020 will be different. Erik, wearing required facial covering, will be met by a bus monitor as he approaches the bus.

“Have you been in contact with a person who has Covid-19?” the monitor will ask.

If Erik says “No,” the monitor will then ask, “Do you feel unwell with any symptoms consistent with Covid-19?”

The list of symptoms includes: coughing, temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, shortness of breath or other breathing difficulty, repeated shaking, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat or loss of taste or smell.

“No,” Erik says, and the monitor aims a thermometer at him to check his temperature.

A student behind Erik answers yes to one question, and the student is sent home.

Older students, like Erik, are sent to the rear of the bus, where they sit 6 feet from the nearest student.

At WCUUSD’s Covid-19 monitor’s suggestion, Heather’s mother drove her to school. Heather came independently to help reduce the number of bus passengers. When she arrives, a staff member will ask the two screening questions and take her temperature. If Heather answers “No” twice and she doesn’t have a fever, she will be allowed into school wearing her mask and maintaining social distancing, facilitated by tape strips on the floor marking adequate spaces.

There is a sanitizing station inside the door incoming students can use for their hands. Erik and Heather will stow their personal gear in lockers that will be cleaned and sanitized at the end of the day.

The guidance prohibits entrance to students from outside the district. When “epidemiological information” allows Step III rules, students from areas with low infection transmission rates may be admitted.

The school must make breakfast and lunch available for students, but the cafeteria is closed to avoid congregating in close proximity. The cafeteria is now Erik’s home room. Multiple teachers wearing facial coverings will come to Erik’s class, which the guidance calls his “pod,” to give in-person lessons, then move on to another pod somewhere else – rotating teachers instead of students rubbing elbows in the hallways.

All teachers have undergone mandatory Covid-19 school reopening training provided by Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Organization (VOSHA).

Erik’s mother wants to talk to his advisor, but she needs an appointment, to complete the health screening, wear a facial covering and maintain social distancing when she comes. Only staff, students and service-providing contractors are allowed in the building without a specific appointment.

Heather begins to feel ill mid-morning. Coughing, temperature and muscle pain suggest Covid-19. The nurse rushes Heather into an isolation room designated to hold suspected virus victims. Her mother collects Heather and takes her home. Twenty four hours after she leaves, droplets from her breath will have settled in the room, and staff will clean and sanitize it.

Heather will have to stay home and learn remotely until she is “no longer considered contagious.”

Another special room is called the Immunization Center, where students and staff will get flu shots, and, ultimately, coronavirus vaccine as well.

The Covid-19 coordinator will trace all Heather’s close contacts prior to becoming ill. They’ll use class attendance records, student statements, teacher comments and interviews with Heather and her family. Contact tracing is crucial to containing coronavirus outbreaks.

If epidemiological data indicates reopening schools was premature, the governor may order them reclosed. WCUUSD will have a “Plan B” for quick return to remote learning if that happens.

Erik orders his lunch on-line. It’s delivered to him, and he eats it at his desk.

At the end of the day Erik retrieves his personal belongings from his locker and leaves through a side door – the guidance suggests different arrival and departure portals so students don’t accidentally encounter each other in close proximity. On his way he drinks from the fountain, which, like the lavatories, has been sanitized several times during the day.

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