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Vermont Superintendents, Teachers And Staff Plan For School Closures

The brick exterior of Woodstock Union High School and Middle School, with a green sign out front.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
VPR File
Woodstock Union High School. Schools across Vermont will close by March 18, following direction from Gov. Phil Scott.

In a press conference Friday, Gov. Phil Scott announced mitigation strategies for the spread of COVID-19 in the state, but stopped short of calling for schools to close. That changed on Sunday, when the governor called for the dismissal of K-12 schools beginning on Wednesday March 18, and lasting at least until April 6. But even before the word came down, schools have been preparing for the shutdown.Jeanné Collins is superintendent of Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union and president of the Vermont Superintendents’ Association. She spoke with VPR's Mitch Wertlieb about the plan for closures and how schools are preparing. Their interview is below. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: So the closure of schools must have been seen as at least a possibility for some time now. What have you been doing in preparation for the decision in your supervisory union?

Jeanné Collins: Well, you're right. It has been seen as a very likely possibility, in fact, an inevitability, for some time now. So the districts, all of my colleagues across the state, have been working towards that eventualitytrying to sort through a number of issues. How do we keep kids learning? How do we feed kids? What do we do when our own staff get sick or have sick kids? So there has been quite a bit of planning and/or pre-planning going on throughout the state.

What's going to happen over these next two days, starting today and Tuesday, as you prepare for dismissal of schools on Wednesday?

It will look a little bit different in each district. Some districts already had things planned for today and tomorrow around this, such as in-service days. Other districts are ready to close right away. But most of us are open on Monday and Tuesday. And for the most part, it's business as usual with the kids who do arrive. I'm expecting 40 to 60% of my students to arrive. And we will do our best to help prepare kids towards learning at home. The rest of the week, starting Wednesday, there won't be kids, and staff will be in building units, developing units, working together to identify ways to continue the learning at home.

What kind of remote learning is being set up for kids?

That varies. There's a wide variability in resources and capacity across the state, particularly with internet access, computer access. It would be false to assume that every student is going to go on to online learning. So it might be that we are making unit packets that we will deliver with lunches to students. It might be some online resources. It's going to be a variety of different ways, largely based on the capacity within the region, the resources within the region and the developmental age of the child.

Is there a plan in place for continuing the availability of school meals?

Yes, there absolutely is. It was on the top of the governor's list and it's also on the top of the list for superintendents. We are aware that too many of our kids do not have food security, and we do have the food lunch program. So most districts are looking at how can we get food to kids. There's a precedent for this: We do summer meal planning. We do summer vacation meals. So it might be a combination of you come to a site to pick up a meal. My district is looking at our bus drivers delivering lunches, a lunch/breakfast combination for students. But all the districts are looking at: How do we get food to kids?

So the schedule for students now looks fairly straightforward. Some kids can opt to go into school today and Tuesday. Then they're off starting Wednesday. But what about the schedule for teachers and staff?

Well teachers, again, that might vary slightly by district. But generally speaking, teachers at the moment are still coming into work. The governor has said that schools are still open for the adults to come in and work. Teachers need time away from the kids to build these units, to get together in small grade-level meetings to work together and build the units. So at least in the short run, teachers will be coming into work. I think many of us are looking at possibilities of remote work plans in the future. But at the moment, a lot of those plans are still being developed.

Did the governor leave enough time for this shift? Because as of Friday, he was saying the schools will remain open. And then this announcement came that schools will be closed as of Wednesday. Did that have folks in your district scrambling?

Well, as you said earlier, we've been knowing this was an eventuality for a week or two now. So it wasn't completely out of the blue. Superintendents throughout the state spent the weekend working hard to develop plans, knowing, especially after Friday's speech, that this was an inevitability. And we support the governor's decision., and we will make it work. We are asking for collaboration, patience, understanding, as we make this incredible shift in education work force. But we support the the governor's plan that we need to limit the spread of this disease throughout the state.

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