TRSU schools closed; Health Dept. did not recommend shuttering Contact occurred at Cavendish Town Elementary

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The schools of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union will be closed “until further notice” starting on Monday, March 16, according to an email sent on Saturday by Superintendent Meg Powden to families, teachers and staff of the six schools in the SU.

The email states: “An individual from Ludlow has a presumptive case of Covid-19 corona virus,” and goes on to say that “Given what I know about this situation, and after being in conversation with a nurse from the Vermont Department of Health and Secretary French of the Agency of Education, I have decided to close our schools until further notice.”

The email also says that the schools will not only be closed to students but also to teachers and most of the staff. Only administration, school nurses and maintenance personnel will be allowed in the buildings.

Vermont State epidemiologist Patsy Kelso told The Telegraph on Saturday afternoon that, “School officials reach out to us all the time,”  explaining that the schools are given the department’s guidance — which is generally not to close schools — but that the decision to remain open or to close is made by the school system.

In the Two Rivers situation, Kelso said that the Health Department official who was in touch with the SU had not recommended closing the schools.

Later in the afternoon, Education Secretary Dan French issued guidance to school officials in a press release cautioning against schools closures for a number of reasons including the fact that health-care workers throughout the state also have children, may be unavailable to work.  On Friday, Gov. Phil Scott declared a state of emergency over the COVID-19 crisis.

French also wrote that “there are also many students who have special, often significant, needs or who rely on school for much of their food. We should not close schools until there are effective plans in place to meet the needs of these students.”

The approach to closing schools, French wrote, needs to “be coordinated, based on facts, sound science, and most importantly in a case like this, what is going to be most effective in our overall effort to protect Vermonters.”

He continued “… our decisions should be based on the recommendations of the state’s best medical, public health and emergency response experts. Districts should be urged, strongly, to think clearly and carefully about the guidance from the Vermont Department of Health and impact of school closures on overall response.”

AOE spokesman Ted Fisher said Saturday that the agency was working on that press release before the TRSU announcement and that Powden had consulted with French about “the political dynamics of this challenging situation before making her decision and he gave her the benefit of his many years of experience as a superintendent.”

Contact happened in only at Cavendish Elementary

According to sources who provided information on background for this story, a person who had been in contact with the Ludlow resident who is the presumptive positive for COVID-19 visited the Cavendish Town Elementary School, but was not a member of the staff or faculty there. The “Ludlow resident” is one of the latest of the total five presumptive positive cases announced by the Vermont Health Department. That person is listed as a Windsor County resident.

Late Saturday afternoon, The Telegraph emailed Powden to give her the opportunity to share her views and process with the community. At the time of publication, she had not responded.

The closing decision took some families by surprise. Just a few hours earlier, at 1 p.m. Saturday, Cavendish Town Elementary parents were sent an email from Principal Deb Beaupre outlining what school events and programs in this coming week and in the near future would be curtailed and announcing that the in-service work planned for Friday, March 20 would be the day teachers would be “getting ourselves acclimated to the notion of remote teaching.”

Beaupre’s email was an amplification on another email sent on Friday, March 13 by Powden and the leaders of six supervisory unions, the Springfield School District and the River Valley Technical Center, which announced their decision to cancel all school-related gatherings  as well as public events scheduled in the schools. These appear to include school plays, sporting events and meetings. The group email said that the schools will hold electronic meetings whenever possible.

The Two Rivers Supervisory Union consists of the Cavendish Town Elementary School, Chester-Andover Elementary School and Green Mountain High School in the Green Mountain School District and Black River High, Ludlow Elementary and the Mount Holly School in the Ludlow Mt. Holly District. The SU has a little more than 1,000 students with approximately 100 in the affected school.

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  1. CAES and GMUHS have wonderful people working at our schools. Jim and Todd can handle any situation. Our para-educators are simply the best, as are all our teachers. We’re going to get to the bottom of this, and come out better then before. From Hurricane Irene to the World Trade Center bombing, the USA has come back stronger then ever. Please let’s all work together and be Vermont Strong.

  2. Denise Reilly says:

    As a parent with three children in this District, I thank Meg and her administration for putting our children first. Someone has to lead the state in making hard decisions. It took 24 hours after TRSU closed schools for the state to decide that it was a good idea for everyone else. At this rate we are better to be safe than sorry.

  3. Cynthia Prairie says:

    We much appreciate the feedback. Thank you.

  4. Meg Minehan says:

    This is irresponsible journalism. Meg Powden made a difficult and thoughtful decision to help keep our most vulnerable community members safe. This is not a time to be petty. I expect more from the Telegraph during this unsettling time.

  5. K. Bergmann says:

    It’s a step that has to be taken. We have to slow the transmission of the virus. If the medical facilities are overwhelmed, we will all be in deep stuff. We all need to do more. Bite the bullet now.