Coronavirus updates

School district grapples with holidays, travel quarantines as Covid cases increase regionally

By Curt Peterson

Sherry Sousa’s “Superintendent’s Report” was scheduled for five minutes on the Windsor Central Supervisory Union board meeting agenda, but the ensuing discussion helped put the meeting into overtime – totaling three hours.

Maintaining a high level of learning while coping with masks, social distancing, hybrid and remote learning, frequent testing and a weekday off for cleaning and faculty breath-catching in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, is a less-than-ideal situation and an enormous task to get one’s head around.

Holiday travel is the next challenge – students’ families and faculty will want to travel to visit relatives. And relatives from elsewhere will come to stay with local families. Sousa said this is just “reality.”

Vermont is surrounded by bright red “hot spot” areas – in fact, 97% of the U.S. is bright red on the Covid map – meaning everyone visiting, hosting outsiders, or leaving and coming back, must quarantine themselves for two weeks.

And quarantine means not attending or teaching in-person classes.

Thanksgiving break includes Wednesday through Friday, Nov. 25-27, on the traditional WCSU calendar, which means traveling families and teachers who starting quarantine on Sunday, Nov. 29, will remain isolated until Dec.14.

The winter holiday begins Dec. 23 and continues through Jan. 1. Two weeks quarantine after that could exclude affected students and faculty from in-person learning until Jan. 18.

If students had to quarantine after both holidays it would mean they’d only attend classes about 10 out of 37 possible in-person days (schools are closed for cleaning and faculty collaboration on Wednesdays) between Nov. 30-Jan. 18.

Would people obey the quarantine guidelines?

Sousa said Vermont’s successful containment of the virus has relied on people acting responsibly, but, as “pandemic fatigue” has gripped the country, there has been some “wavering” among local families. When asked, “How was your weekend,” Sousa said, some students have answered, “My parents told me not to say what we did this weekend.”

If the district adopts fully remote learning during the post-breaks quarantine periods, all students would be treated equally, and any effects from possible rule-bending would be eliminated.

Vice-chair Pamela Fraser (Barnard) supported that idea.

Board member Clare Drebitko (Woodstock) worries about the family disruption and mental stress caused by more remote learning and by going back and forth between in-person and remote classes, particularly for teens.

“Kids have lost so much already,” Drebitko said.

Board member Kerilyn Bristow (Woodstock) emphasized the economic pressure on already-stressed families during a four-and-a-half week total break from school attendance. For younger children it would require an adult presence in the home.

Board member Jim Haff (Killington) suggested a simplified solution: go all-remote from Thanksgiving through winter break, reducing stress caused by changing back and forth.

Killington board member Jennifer Ianantuoni pointed out that such a holiday to holiday break would mean seven-and-a-half weeks with no in-class instruction.

The district has given every student a Chromebook laptop computer to assist with remote learning and Jim Overbay (Pomfret) suggested a teacher instructing in-person classes could add a Chromebook on his or her desk and engage at-home students at the same time. That way the remote students could participate actively in the discussion, he added.

Chairman Bryce Sammel (Barnard) suggested using community spaces such as libraries, town halls, churches to gather socially-distanced students for communal remote learning, to help relieve effects of isolation and give working parents a break.

Sousa said there is a handbook for full-remote learning because the changing Covid situation has always meant it was a possibility.

With Thanksgiving break just three weeks away, the decision must be made soon. The next regular board meeting isn’t until Dec. 7.

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