GMUSD Board gets update on re-opening

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Most of the Green Mountain Unified School District board meeting on Thursday, July 17 was taken up with discussing how district schools will reopen for face-to-face learning late next month. So it was ironic that the final agenda point was a conversation on whether the board should continue to meet via Zoom or return to in-person meetings as well. No decision was reached, so the August meeting will be online.

Lauren Fierman took over as superintendent in July after two years as principal at Green Mountain Telegraph file photo

Lauren Fierman said that in her first two weeks as superintendent of Two Rivers Supervisory Union she has been meeting with the four school nurses who act as the Covid-19 coordinator mandated by the state’s plan for reopening schools and with a work group that includes members of the administration, teacher leaders, nurses and the facilities directors. The work group meets once a week and breaks out into subgroups to work on what reopening will look like.

Fierman also said she had sent a letter to parents to tell them what is being planned for the fall and inviting them to weekly open meetings, which began on Tuesday, July 21. She noted that the state’s guidance is 25 pages long but does not cover every possibility in every building. Fierman said that everything being planned now is open to being changed based on new information regarding Covid-19.

Fierman said TRSU plans to open all five of its schools every day for in-person instruction. And while there has been discussion of other schemes — days on and days off with some remote learning — for now “we believe we have enough space in our buildings for every student to come to school every day and maintain appropriate social distancing,” she said, adding that of course, that is subject to change.

She also said that the schools would try to do as much outdoors as possible while the weather cooperates. “That is the best way for us to limit the spread of infection,” said Fierman. “We cannot eliminate all risk of infection. We’d like to. We can’t. The only way to do that is for everyone to stay home and quarantine. We are going to do everything we can to minimize the risk.” Later in the meeting she noted that the schools are looking into tents that can be used as classrooms.

Temperature checks will be a feature of daily life at school Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels

In addition to wearing face coverings, Fierman said that each day, everyone will get a health check before entering the building or getting onto a school bus. The check will consist of a few questions and taking the student’s or staff member’s temperature. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be sent home.

Fierman told the board that the waiver for teachers who do not have an endorsement on their teaching license to teach online has been extended to the end of 2020 and the school is considering implementing a program in which teachers who are at higher risk for severe Covid-19 illness can work with students remotely.

According to Fierman, TRSU also is looking at an option where students can either attend school in person, or remotely if health considerations make it a better choice.  “I see this as a win-win for everybody,” said Fierman.

The superintendent also told the board that TRSU will be sending another survey to gauge the feelings of parents about the return to school. She noted that in conversations with administrators in other communities there are areas where most parents are ready to send their children back and others where they are less certain about it.

Fierman told the board that the SU would hold a four-day retreat – via Zoom – at the end of July with administrators and teacher leaders not only to talk about the nuts and bolts of reopening, but also to work on what they will be teaching.

“It seems much more natural right now to talk about how to get students into the building,” said Fierman, “but we do have to remember to continue working on what we are teaching them once they are in the building.”

Board member Kate Lamphere of Cavendish asked if Fierman thought there is enough space in the school buildings to have 6-foot distancing between students.

“For the most part, we are able to maintain that distance,” said Fierman, noting that it might be a little less than 6 feet in some places but that if the students are seated facing forward and wearing face coverings that smaller distance is less important. “The 6 feet is a hard line for people who are face to face,” said Fierman.

“I’m well aware of how much anxiety all of these unknowns produce for our students, for their families and for our staff,” said Fierman. “It’s not something we take lightly … we are doing everything we can to balance our desire to bring students into face-to-face learning … against our concern that we expose people to as little risk as possible.”

Funding may cover many Covid expenses

TRSU Business Manager Cheryl Hammond Telegraph file photo

Business Manager Cheryl Hammond told the board that she is “optimistically hopeful” that federal funds coming through the state will cover a number of the school system’s unbudgeted expenses related to dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

These could include expenses for things like additional technology, personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and bus monitors who would do health checks each morning.

Hammond estimates that the bus monitors for a full year would cost around $50,000, technology about $24,000, cleaning supplies about $35,000.

Cavendish Library question returns

Library director Kata Welch takes a question from GM board member Kate Lamphere when the board toured the facility on Dec. 12, 2019. Telegraph file photo

Noting that the decision was to end this past June to not use the front of the Cavendish Town Elementary School as a playground or for outdoor classes due to questions about student safety while the adjacent public library, After School program director Venissa White asked the board if that would change.

Fromberger asked for recommendations from the administration and CTES Principal Katherine Fogg said she was just getting acclimated to the area and had met with librarian Kata Welch that day.

She said the library would be open to students only on Mondays and Fridays and to the public the rest of the week and asked White to meet with her to discuss the program’s needs.  Last year. an incident in which a patron was seen carrying an unloaded gun in the library prompted calls from former Principal Deb Beaupre to close and move the town’s library away from the school building. Former Superintendent Meg Powden decided that the area in front of school – which had been used as a playground — would be off limits to students during school.

Lamphere asked if the issue would come back to the board for consideration in light of Covid-19, adding another layer of danger in having children playing in front of the library. Board chair Joe Fromberger of Andover said it would.

Board ponders whether to meet in person or online

Fromberger said he brought up the question of meeting in person to hear opinions File photo

Fromberger noted that some towns are returning to in-person meetings and asked the board what their opinion of going back to a face-to-face format or a hybrid that would continue to use on-line. Board member Fred Marin of Cavendish noted that in hosting hybrid meetings Okemo TV has had problems with getting good quality sound so everyone can understand what is being said.

Venissa White noted that there is a lot of anxiety around returning to school and if adults are not willing to sit in the same room, she worries about the message that sends to parents.

Lamphere agreed with both Marin and White and noted that there has been more public participation on the Zoom meetings and that she is very anxious about the return to school.

“The irony is not lost on me that I don’t want to be in a room with a bunch of people yet students and teachers are going to be soon,” said Lamphere.

Fromberger said he was looking for feedback and was not looking to change the meeting format for August.

 

 

 

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  1. E. Scott says:

    It concerns me that some of the people that want to send our kids back to school are themselves not willing to have face to face meetings with each other. It feels like a double standard to me. Lead by example.

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