By Curt Peterson
Vermont schools are preparing to reopen Sept. 8 in spite of fluid state guidelines. Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union (WSESU)— which includes Hartland Elementary School — is endeavoring to make local strategies work within those guidelines.
“If you follow the science, it’s safe to open our school,” Hartland Elementary School principal Christine Bourne told the Mountain Times.
WSESU is a federation of individual town schools and boards with central purchasing and curriculum-setting at the SU level. Hartland students have school choice, meaning they can apply to attend any eligible high school that has room.
An Aug. 20 HES virtual information session hosted 55 attendees. Principal Bourne outlined reopening goals, operations and what parents and students can expect.
Bus monitors will greet students at bus stops, ask screening questions and take their temperatures. A student not cleared for boarding will be sent home. Annette Jennings, school nurse, will follow up with those students sent home.
Some educators expect rising numbers of Covid-19 cases will cause another shut-down or suspension of in-person learning sometime this school year, so development of strong teacher-student relationships is important for continuity.
WSESU Superintendent Dr. David Baker feels reopening longevity depends on the number of confirmed virus cases, and on students’ ability and willingness to follow rules regarding safety and health. He plans to give daily updates on progress and status.
If schools shut down again, teachers will be instructing their same students remotely providing consistent student/mentor relationships, Bourne said.
All HES students will attend classes Monday through Friday, as the school has room for all of its 280 students while allowing social distancing requirements.
The school offers an optional fully-remote learning program taught by designated teachers. Unlike this spring’s virtual learning, which was created on an emergency basis, teachers will regularly measure students’ efforts and progress, and interact individually to make sure they are up to speed when appropriate.
Thus far, 29 HES students (26%) have opted for the fully-remote learning program.
Additionally, HES will provide increased outdoor learning.
Hartland resident Jill Rubin led a fundraising campaign for tents and carports to facilitate al fresco education, and musician Jay Nash helped raise funds with an online concert, Bourne said.
Every HES classroom has an exterior door so students will be able to enter their classrooms directly upon arrival, exit for outdoor classes, and head for home at day’s end avoiding comingling in the hallways and lobby.
Each classroom also has a lavatory, which will be disinfected three times a day, further reducing the chance of virus transmission beyond a student’s pod group during restroom visits.
Breakfast and lunch will be served at students’ desks, and fully-remote learners can pre-order and pick up their lunches in front of HES.
In conjunction the Hartland Food Pantry a “Friday Food Bag Program” will send weekend meals home with eligible students.
Students are asked to bring a minimum number of personal items to school, as they will be stored in the classrooms during the day – there will be no locker or cubby storage.
Double-lined cloth masks will be mandatory except when outside or eating or drinking. Kids can bring their own masks, or use provided masks. Masks should be washed every day. Neck-to-eyeball “gaiters,” officially deemed ineffective, do not qualify.
Any student becoming ill during the school day will go to an “isolation room.” Nurse Jennings, who is also HES Covid coordinator, will determine if symptoms may be that of the Covid virus with diagnostic assistance from the Dept. of Health. Students showing definite symptoms must be picked up from the school.
Jennings said Dept. of Health “contact tracers” will identify everyone with whom the student has been in close contact before and after infection.
“There is talk of progressing to ‘Step 3’ [increased relaxation of mandatory rules] in the state’s reopening strategy,” Bourne said. “We may be in and out of remote status during the school year. We will be prepared for whatever comes at us.”