TRSU moves toward hybrid reopen Sept. 8 Second re-opening forum set for Wednesday night

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At the beginning of a Zoom public forum last Tuesday, Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Lauren Fierman told the nearly 120 parents, community members and teachers attending that due to the nature of the pandemic almost everything they would talk about was subject to change. Since then, much of it has.

TRSU Superintendent Lauren Fierman explains the reopening plans that were current when the first public forum was held on July 21

In a letter sent to families and staff Monday, Fierman announced that the five schools in the SU —  Green Mountain High and Chester-Andover, Cavendish Town, Ludlow and Mount Holly elementaries —  will be open for in-person instruction four days a week with a remote learning day on Wednesday. She also confirmed that a  remote-learning-only option will be available to any students who would prefer it.

Previously, the in-person option was every day and the remote option was still in development. Part of that change has been driven by the desire to align the schedules of the schools that send students into River Valley Technical Center in Springfield.

For the first couple of weeks, the schools will run on an early release schedule on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, according to Fierman’s letter. But the time is yet to be determined.

Much of what Fierman spoke about at Tuesday’s public forum is still in place.

  • There will be bus transportation available although parents are being asked to bring their children to school if possible.
  • Those children attending school will receive a health check – including temperature screening – every day at their first point of contact – either before boarding the bus or at the school door.
  • Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit will not be allowed on the bus or into the school.
  • Following state requirements, in school and on the bus, adults and children will be required to wear face coverings, but the as long as the weather cooperates, students will be spending as much time outdoors as possible.
  • Students will remain in cohorts as much as possible with middle and high school students moving around for classes more than elementary students.
  • Classrooms will be set up for distancing.

Plans continue to evolve

Three questions from the July 21 survey sent to TRSU families

On the same day that Fierman held the forum, a survey was sent to families in the supervisory union. It received more than 170 responses in the first day. Aside from asking which school(s) and what grade(s) a family’s child or children would attend, the questionnaire asked whether the family was planning on in-person or remote learning and if they would use school buses or drive their children to school.

By Monday, there were nearly 400 responses, which represents about 40 percent of students in the SU. A survey of teachers pulled in a 35 percent response rate.

“Your voice and opinions are important to us as we make decisions within the freedom that we have,” Fierman told the Tuesday forum, noting that some of the guidelines put out by the Agency of Education are considered requirements while others are recommendations.

“It’s such a chicken and egg thing,” Fierman told The Telegraph in an interview on Sunday, saying that as the schools collect more information, plans will change but that the schools in the Green Mountain and Ludlow Mount Holly districts intend to have a detailed picture of how school will be conducted that will be released as a handbook by Friday, Aug. 7.

And the survey says…

Among the responses by families to Fierman’s survey, a little over 11 percent said they would not send their children for in-person instruction. This is roughly the same number found in a survey back in June, Fierman said. At the same time, 55 percent of families said they would be sending their children for in-person instruction while nearly 34 percent remained uncertain.

As for the remote option, 37.5 percent of respondents said they would not select it for their children, while 34.4 percent said they would and 28 percent were not sure.

And in a huge shift, only 14 percent of families said they would use the school bus this year with 69 percent saying they will drive their students to school and 17 percent uncertain.

If the survey numbers hold, social distancing on buses and in classrooms will be easier.

The survey does not ask how many families are planning to pull children out of the schools altogether in favor of homeschooling.

The rumors of families opting for homeschooling are everywhere and, according to Vermont Education Secretary Dan French, the numbers of applications to teach children at home are up statewide as the Aug. 1 deadline approaches.

French has said that last year the state received 900 homeschool applications while so far this year 1,700 families have applied. With roughly 300 schools in the state, that 800 student uptick represents about 2.67 students per school.

State will mandate “universal start” for schools

While the Agency of Education has concentrated on health requirements and left the way schools are configured for learning up to local officials – including a memo last week saying that school boards have the authority to decide how their schools will open – it still has the power to make or change what it requires of school districts and supervisory unions.

Gov. Scott announces universal school start date

An example of this also happened last week when French polled “all of the major education associations last week, including the superintendents, school boards, principals associations and” Vermont teachers’ union to see what they thought about waiting until after Labor Day to open schools.

In an email on Monday, an agency spokeswoman said, “Responses to the survey were mixed. Some groups saw value in starting school after Labor Day whereas others had concern about how such a delay would impact their current plans.”

The statement continued: “Managing the school calendar at the state level has been under consideration for some time. Secretary French raised it with legislature in June before they adjourned for the summer.”

Then, on Tuesday July 28 Gov. Phil Scott announced that he would be issuing an executive order that would mandate a “universal start date after Labor Day.” Starting on September 8 could give school systems eight days of training or other work with teachers to get ready for the beginning of instruction. There are questions on how this would work with school calendars and employee contracts. French said the devil is in the details.

TRSU Superintendent Fierman’s second weekly forum on school reopening will be held via Zoom at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. July 29.

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