Updated 7:10 p.m.
Gov. Phil Scott announced Thursday evening Vermont schools would remain closed for the rest of the academic year to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The governor issued the directive a day after his Stay Home, Stay Safe order went into effect, closing all but “critical” business and nonprofit operations and asking Vermonters to stay home, with several exceptions. Another, previous order closed the state’s schools between March 18 and April 6.
“The education of our students and the bonding and learning experiences they have at schools are tremendously important, so I fully appreciate the impact and difficulty of this decision,” Scott said in a written statement Thursday. “I also recognize it will be challenging for some schools to implement remote learning through the end of the year.”
He added he was encouraged by the “creativity” he’s already seen from schools and parents. As part of his newest order, the governor is requiring Vermont school districts to come up with distance learning plans by April 13.
Scott said the Agency of Education will also work with schools to sort through issues with access to learning, federal mandates for providing education to students with disabilities, meals, attendance and school calendar requirements.
His administration plans a press conference about the directive on Friday.
Vermont National Education Association president Don Tinney released a statement shortly after the governor's announcement and said the organization is both “disappointed and saddened” as well as understanding of the need to protect the health and safety of “all Vermonters.”
"There is a real disappointment our students aren't going to finish the year in school, but we know it's the right thing to do for public health," Tinney said in an interview with VPR.
He cautioned that remote learning won't be able to completely replace in-person teaching.
"There’s no way we're going to see the academic growth in our students through distance learning that we would see in the classroom," he said.
In his written statement, Tinney said the Vermont NEA would focus on securing three things while school is dismissed: Health and safety for everyone, nutritious meals for students and paychecks for school employees.
In the meantime, some school districts will continue to provide child care for parents who the Scott administration classifies as “essential” people in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor commended those educators and staff Thursday.
“ … I am so proud and appreciative of their hard work, creative can-do attitude and their willingness to step up in this moment of service,” Scott said. “These educators, and the staff supporting them, represent the very best of our public education system."