Sept. 8 is the date. That’s the first day of public school in Vermont.
It appears, at this moment, the data supports in-person learning that can be done in “a safe and measured way.”
But there’s there’s still a lot of squish in that approach.
The governor’s order to delay resumption of instruction was hailed as “a good first step” in ensuring Vermont schools are safe.
“Vermont’s educators stand ready to work with school boards, administrators, health experts and parents to ensure the safe resumption of instruction,” said Don Tinney, a high school English teacher who serves as president of the 13,000-member Vermont-NEA. “Health and safety must be our first priority. … By working together in a methodical, orderly way, I hope we can avoid the mistakes that would endanger our students, educators, parents and communities.”
“Of course, there are risks,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. “When I weigh the health risks against the educational, developmental, social and emotional risks for young children, I come to the same conclusion as the pediatricians and education experts: Now is the right time for Vermont to re-start in-person learning.”
The decision put many parents at ease who were concerned about how to provide child care. But teachers remain skeptical and — frankly — scared. We have not given our schools the support they need to reopen this fall. Now the rush is on.
And those frightened educators, who must be part of these conversations, find themselves about to make the case in front of their school boards … in short order.
By way of explanation, the governor noted Tuesday, “We also know there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ plan for our hundreds of schools because each are a bit different. As well, because of our state school structure, we must also respect the local decision-making process.”
There are three options:
— Full remote learning again.
— A hybrid model, offering a mix of in-person instruction and remote learning.
— Or full in-person learning.
Scott said many district plans are yielding to a hybrid model, with kids being present in classrooms only a few days a week. “Starting with a hybrid model gives school staff members and parents time to test the waters, and work through some of the stress and anxiety that exists in a situation like this, where we know things could change, and we need to be nimble.”
That is building in a lot of contingencies based on a lot of variables that no one has right now.
The governor seems convinced it can be done well. “School districts, school boards, teachers and administrators should take this extra time to make sure they, and their hybrid and online solutions, are ready and effective, so we can deliver for our children and build confidence in the public education system’s ability to be flexible and responsive, because faith in the system is key to returning to in-person instruction.”
The NEA is poised to avert having the blame shift to local school districts if an outbreak in Vermont changes the landscape yet again — especially for those districts that have been putting all of their effort into the in-person model that had been previously mandated.
The union’s phased-in approach has four steps: Allow school employees to have uninterrupted time together to prepare for the return of children to classrooms, plan for distance learning, conduct staff training and coordinate pandemic preparedness; allow educators to meet with students and families either in-person or remotely, as public health conditions warrant; resume teaching; and allow for “an ongoing assessment of where we stand and, using public health data and educational progress, adjusting plans as necessary.”
A lot is riding on getting this correct. Dr. Rebecca Bell, a pediatrician and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, spoke Tuesday in support of reopening schools, reminding Vermonters that our main priority is to work to keep virus levels low in the community.
“What happens in our schools is a reflection of what’s happening in the community,” Dr. Bell said. “We keep our schools safe by keeping our communities safe.”
The extra time is welcome given that the options mean a lot of decisions are going to need to be made. We need a solid approach for a bright future for our kids not gaslighting in case things go sideways.