By Curt Peterson
If the Covid-19 pandemic has a lesson for us, it’s that our education system is both key and integral to the operation of our national, state and local economies.
On June 10, Governor Phil Scott announced Vermont’s intention to reopen its 300-plus K-12 schools next fall, freeing parents of more than 80,000 students to return to jobs and businesses instead of spending their days teaching, coaching and minding their school-age children.
But how that exactly will look is yet to be determined and could be in flux throughout next school year. A serious spike in the number of positive cases may mean students will have to return to remote-learning.
Local schools are preparing for a variety of scenarios, including lower student density requirements, which may mean some schools doing in-person teaching on alternate days – remote learning would occur every other day at home, and many parents would have to assume a like schedule.
Agency of Education strategies, thus far, include flexibility, and asks schools to be “able to shift school instructional dispositions on a continuum of options from full in-person instruction to full remote learning, including a hybrid approach that might include both.”
If an oft-predicted “second wave” of virus infections occurs next fall, administrators must be ready to switch to something between optimum in-person learning and totally remote learning, in response.
Districts are encouraged to begin planning with new guidelines published this week, and to include representatives from faculty, non-teaching staff, parents, transportation vendors, student food providers. Proposals will be reviewed for approval by the AOE.
Transportation looms as a major issue for Sherry Sousa, interim Superintendent for Windsor Central Unified School District. If the state requires distancing on the buses, Sousa wrote the Mountain Times in an email, “it will have major budget and scheduling implications.”
Distancing and student density limitations will also dictate how the campus buildings are used, Sousa said.
The WCUSD district plans will include an ability to adjust to Covid-driven changes in requirements.
For Nicki Buck, chair of the Hartland School Board, the main concern is procuring supplies necessary to execute any reopening plan.
“Little districts can’t compete against each other for expensive, unbudgeted supplies,” she wrote in an email to the Mountain Times, adding the state will have to provide help.
Commissioner of Education Dan French has indicated the state may direct federal coronavirus relief funds to help with extraordinary reopening expenses such as personal protection equipment (PPE) and cleaning materials.
One hurdle is overcoming parents’ concerns about sending their children back into the schools when they reopen.
Sousa has received many parent emails concerning WCUSD’s summer program, most excited and appreciative, but also wanting to know more about health concerns.
“We have all become very flexible in what we consider to be our future in school,” Sousa said.