Schools hone opening plans as state adds to, changes guidance Next TRSU public forum to be held Thursday night on Zoom

Most TRSU survey respondents are opting for in-person education.
Photo by Julia M. Cameron from Pexels

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

As the clock ticks down to a Tuesday, Sept. 8 start date for Vermont schools, those in the Two Rivers Supervisory Union continue to work out the details of a plan to offer a hybrid approach to education this fall. But on Tuesday, Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French announced several changes to the Strong and Healthy Start guidance issued by Agency of Education.

While many of the changes are confirmations or amplifications of guidance in the original 25-page document, the new 33 page document has a few substantial changes. These include a statement that “a robust and growing body of evidence now strongly indicates that children younger than age 10 are far less likely to transmit SARS-CoV-2 to other children or adults” and that children who are younger than grade 5 should get the highest priority for returning to school full time.

The new version also allows schools to collect daily health reports from parents rather than taking them at the school or bus door. Temperature checks will still need to be done at first contact by a school employee.

The change that seems most likely to get a reaction from parents, teachers and staff is the state’s reduction of physical distancing from 6 feet to 3 feet for PreK to grade 5 students.  TRSU Superintendent Lauren Fierman addressed this in the SU’s public forum last week saying that the state could reduce the recommended distance but she would not commit to that.

“I’m feeling pretty comfortable with our saying we’re going to do six feet or as close to six feet as possible,” said Fierman, “I’m not prepared to say that three feet feels comfortable to me.” But Fierman went on to say she is a life-long learner and was open to new data.

Most survey respondents opting for in-person learning

In an interview earlier this week, Fierman told The Telegraph that a recent survey of parents got a 50 percent response rate from elementary school families. Of those, 71.5 percent (or 153) intend to send their children to in-person instruction while 19.2 percent (or 41) would opt for the virtual learning academy with 9.3 percent (or 20) will homeschool this year.

At the previous meeting, Fierman made it clear that those choosing homeschooling will not have access to electronics or other technology that those enrolled in school – either in person or virtual – will have. But, she noted, there is nothing to preclude parents whose children are enrolled in virtual instruction from also engaging in homeschooling. Fierman told The Telegraph that one advantage of choosing the virtual instruction over homeschooling only would be keeping the child connected to what would be expected when he or she returns to in-person instruction in the future.

The survey response from middle/high school families was only around 41 percent, but of those, 73 percent said they would be back for in-person learning and 25 percent said they would go for the online instruction being offered through the Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative. Only two students chose homeschooling.

TRSU will hold another public forum on the reopening at 6 p.m. on Thursday Aug. 13 via Zoom. Here is the link to join the meeting.

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