On April 21, 2021

School reopening celebrated by some, others say ‘Why rock the boat?’

By Curt Peterson

Some people aren’t fans of returning to full-time, in-class learning. Who they are may surprise you.

But pro-reopening voices have echoed loudly across the country and state — nowhere, perhaps, more so than at the virtual National Safe School Reopening Summit on March 24. 

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden said, “Classrooms are where our work [as educators] comes alive,” adding, students consider them “a safe place to live and grow.”

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona cited $130 billion dedicated to “safely reopen schools as quickly as possible” in the American Rescue package. 

Ted Fisher, spokesperson for the Vermont’s Dept. of Education, told the Mountain Times, “Under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund for all three of the federal Covid-19 relief bills … Windsor Central receives $2,696,113 from ESSER III, and $4,033,426 from the three acts overall.”

Woodstock High/Middle School principal Garon Smail surveyed students’ families about transportation issues, and solicited comments about reopening.

“Many parents shared a strong desire to have students return to campus for more in-person learning days,” Principal Smail told the Mountain Times. “People cited declining socioemotional health, slower than usual learning progress, isolation, and the general wellbeing of their children as reasons for wanting more in-person days.”

Were there any negative comments?

“A much smaller number of people have shared concerns about spacing and adequate ventilation,” Smail answered, referring to his public comments about air transfer and spacing assurances he made at a recent board meeting presentation. 

The Center for Disease Prevention (CDC) recommends specific spacing in schools, to which WCUUSD adheres.

Armed with new resources and pressured to reopen, WCUUSD campuses began four-day, full-time school on Monday, April 19. Students will continue to learn remotely on Wednesdays.

Superintendent Sherry Sousa said, “Wednesdays will remain remote days so that we can meet our expectations to faculty and staff for planning and preparation time.”

Other changes involve school meals and transportation. Buses will no longer be needed to deliver meals to coolers at driveways as students will eat in school, except on Wednesdays when breakfast and lunch will be available for pickup.

“Parents were very positive,” Superintendent Sousa said, “and offered to bring and pick-up the majority of their students to [and from] school each day. We do not anticipate that bus transportation will be an issue, especially with new state guidance.”

Who is unhappy about reopening?

Student representative Genevieve Morel told the district board on April 5 that she is concerned about full-time in-person learning, saying the change in her personal scheduling this close to the end of the school year, as she is studying for Advanced Placement course exams, is very stressful.

Pomfret parent Cathy Peters told the Mountain Times, “The end of year is fast approaching, and that brings a lot of stress to students, and to add big changes to established routines seems like one more unnecessary burden.”

Peters’ concerns include the increased number of students within the school buildings, lack of morning health screenings, and students returning from a break possibly exposed to the virus. She and one of her daughters have health issues that make them susceptible to Covid, which brings a lot of extra anxiety to her over reopening.

“I can’t understand why there is still no way to video record classes for students so they can continue their classes at home during illness or pandemic in the [21st] century,” Peters lamented, suggesting some of the ESSER funds could finance such a program.

“There are only seven weeks left in the school year,” she said. “Vaccination status of the students hasn’t changed, and Covid infection [rates haven’t] decreased, so I feel again stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

In a recent letter to the editor in the Valley News, Woodstock Union High junior Jacob Weir cited “emerging new strains of the coronavirus” as another factor that should give administrators pause. “Even assuming that, after April break, many [students] will be vaccinated and safe, it feels pointless to make the change to in-person learning so near the end of the school year,” he said. 

“The time does not feel right, and the reward is not worth the risks,” Weir wrote. “Many wonder; why rock the boat now?”

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