Students K-2 will have five half-days of in-person instruction each week; students in grades 3-8 will attend school remotely
By Lee J. Kahrs
The Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union is planning to begin school this fall using a hybrid of in-person and remote learning strategies, as have several other districts. However, RNeSU’s plan differs in that it will offer a full week of in-person instruction half-days to its youngest students, while offering only remote options for grades 3 and up.
RNeSU Superintendent Jeanne Collins said the plan is the result of weeks of work and research. “It was 6-8 weeks of trying out new logistics, looking at new data,” Collins said. “We had settled on a partial in-school model until 10 days ago,” when the school district changed to its current proposal, which is as follows:
RNeSU kindergarten through second grade students will attend school from 8 a.m. – noon, Monday-Friday, with remote learning options available to all students. Parents can access live stream video of morning classroom lessons.
Students in grades 3-12 will access remote learning five days a week with no in-person education. Collins said she chose this model after several weeks of assessment and research.
“Medical science tells us that the younger students have a very low risk of transmission and are the most in need of in-person instruction with their classroom teacher,” she said. “The morning will focus on literacy, math, and social skills with lessons in other content areas to be sent home for afternoon lessons on a consistent basis.”
Every student will be issued a Chromebook laptop.
Collins said she recognizes that not all students do well with full-time remote learning. Those students who need more in-school support, such a special needs students, and those with individualized learning plans (IEPs), will be able to sign up for in-school support. Priority will be given to the following criteria:
A younger child whose parent(s) work and there is no other supervision available.
A child who does not have internet access even with the school Chromebook/hot spot device.
Students with specific social/ emotional or learning needs.
A survey to those parents and guardians of students who may require more in-school instruction went out this week.
In-school support may be half day or whole day and transportation will be available. In-school support will look like the following:
Elementary students will be grouped in pods with physical distancing in place.
Facial coverings must be worn at all times unless on the playground with distancing or eating/ drinking.
A non-teaching adult will be assigned to monitor each pod and to support remote learning of the students.
The adult will also structure the day with time on the playground or outside (elementary), lunch, and other down time activities. K-2 students may choose this option after their in-person learning ends.
Middle and high school students may self-refer to come to the school for support as needed or may be referred by the teacher or school.
Middle and high school support will run from 8 a.m. to 12-noon. with transportation available.
Middle/high school support will be set up as a learning center, with an adult to assist with the remote learning,
Special education students may have individual plans as designed by their IEP teams.
On other matters, Collins noted that cafeterias and gymnasiums will be closed to student use, and meals will be eaten in the classroom or outside as per state and federal guidelines.
Parents and guardians are encouraged to transport their children to school themselves if at all possible, but school bus transportation will be offered. Students will be required to complete a daily health screening before getting on the bus, and may not attend school if they have a temperature or a positive answer to health assessment questions about possible exposure to Covid-19. Students may also be assigned to cluster stops for pick up.
There will be assigned seats on the buses, and all students, aides and drivers will be required to wear masks.
After-school programs are still a work in progress, Collins said. Adding that the district’s hybrid model is flexible, and if conditions improve and the data supports increasing in-person learning the district would do so.
“This is an opening plan and we’ll see how it goes,” she said, “but primary teachers in kindergarten through second grade really wanted to be with the little kids. It’s much safer at younger ages, the data states that the younger kids don’t transmit the disease as much as older students.”
Gov. Phil Scott’s announcement that the first day of school will be Sept. 8 to give students who have traveled this summer with their families or hosted visitors from out of state time to settle in safely to a routine with daily health monitoring.
That said, Collins is more than realistic about the roller coaster effect of the Covid-19 on any education plan.
“If the data supports it, and the logistics are in place, third and fourth grade would be the next group to come into the school,” Collins said. “The goal is to build to in-person education safely as the data allows it to happen, with the realization that we will be at full closure at least once during the coming school year. That’s just being realistic.”
“If I’m wrong and things improve, we’d be able to bring kids back into the schools slowly,” she said. “And I’d love to be wrong. Then, everybody is healthy and safe and we have perfected a new system of teaching.”
The journey to a decision
Collins said she and her staff had been measuring classrooms, setting up desks six feet apart, trying to figure out how many students they could fit in a class.
“We took out bookcases, even the teachers’ desks,” Collins said. “We could not fit all of the students. Some rooms we could, most we couldn’t.”
Collins said she also knew there will be parents who will not be sending their kids back into the school buildings. That, coupled with the logistics of mandatory daily health screenings each morning, were contributing factors to the decision to go with a hybrid model. Collins said she considered a two days in, three days out model for Otter Valley Union High School as many other schools in the state are doing, but decided against it.
“We would still have over 400 people in the high school building under that model,” Collins said. “We also have a high number of vulnerable employees I feared I would lose under that option.”
In fact, staffing concerns are quickly becoming the top challenge for superintendents. Some Vermont teachers and staff concerned about the virus with an in-school teaching model have said they would request sick leave and paid family leave, making it difficult to organize staffing as the new school year approaches.
“That would have meant putting non-certified subs in this education program which was not very high-quality education,” she said. “That’s O.K. for a day or two, but it’s different than getting a substitute for a year when a teacher cannot teach. I’m worried about getting subs because we’re not supposed to be bringing new people into the building.”
That was another reason Collins went with a hybrid model. “It felt like we were chasing the wrong tail,” she said. “ We were trying to do something we were not able to do safely or with quality.”