By Lee J. Kahrs
BRANDON — The Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union wants as many kids in the schools as possible, but is poised to turn to all remote learning if necessary. The bigger concern right now is the holiday season.
Rumors have been flying that Otter Valley Union High School is planning to send all kids home and resort to all remote learning, but that is not the case, said RNeSU Superintendent Jeanne Collins.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that things are going well, but the focus on contingency plans continues,” Collins said. “We are not pre-emptively closing.”
That said, with the holidays approaching, the bigger concern is, will schools remain open if staff members travel for the holidays and then have to quarantine?
So far, Rutland County has not experienced the spike in Covid-19 new cases being felt in other parts of the state.
With 48 out of 50 states currently experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, families planning to travel out of state for the holidays, or hosting relatives from out of state are posing a challenge for the schools. There is a two-week mandatory quarantine for anyone traveling from out of state once they return to Vermont.
Otter Valley Union High School Principal Jim Avery said the concern is that OV won’t have the staff available to teach students following the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. Staff members have been asked to communicate their holiday plans with Avery so he can try and plan coverage.
“We don’t have a bank of substitutes to call on like we used to,” he said, adding that he himself subbed just last week. “There are very few substitutes in the world right now. We only have a few and they’re maxed out. It’s just a reality. People get sick, not from Covid, but they get colds and it’s flu season. It’s a frontline business.”
If too many staff members travel and have to quarantine, Collins said it might mean closing classrooms or schools, leaving working parents scrambling for childcare.
“I’m constantly reminding parents that they need a backup plan,” Collins said. “Without staff to either teach or clean, we would have to shut down some classrooms or schools.”
And the district can’t forbid personal travel for staff members, so Collins said they are in a wait-and-see mode, but planning for the worst.
“It’s very worrisome because it comes down to it, do we have the staffing?” Collins said. “We are asking people to think about the impact of their decisions on the entire school community, because the high school would have to go full remote, so I want parents to think about ‘What if?’”
State Education Secretary Dan French said staffing was a concern before the pandemic, and continues to be exacerbated. “This emergency has brought the issue to the forefront,” he said. “Most schools can toggle between remote and in person learning based on availability, but it’s a very real concern. It remains to be seen if [the staffing issue] actually causes some schools to shut down.”