GMUSD schools seem more prepared for reopening than NEA statewide grades indicate

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A distanced classroom at Green Mountain High. Photo provided

On Thursday, Sept. 3, the Vermont NEA – the union that represents public school teachers in the state – released a “report card” for “overall preparation for safe start of school” as the Covid-19 pandemic continues. The grades in the report came from representatives of the local teachers’ union.  The release said that the lack of a statewide reopening approach left students, teachers and parents “on their own.”

Looking at the statewide grade, one might wonder how a local district’s educators, administrators and boards did, so we asked Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Lauren Fierman to walk us through the survey questions for the Green Mountain Unified School District.

The GM district is comprised of three schools – Green Mountain Middle/High School and Cavendish Town and Chester-Andover elementaries. It also receives students from the Mount Holly School and Ludlow Elementary. Those communities have school choice, so not all of those students attend Green Mountain.

Here are the survey questions and Fierman’s answers, which The Telegraph has graded.

Health and Safety: (Statewide C Plus) GMUSD – B+

Does your district have at least one full-time nurse in each building? No* – B+

  • Full time in two buildings, more than half time in one building bringing the full-time equivalent to approximately 2.6 out of 3 or 86.7 percent. Fierman says she is planning to ask the GM board to add hours to the one part-time nurse’s position.

Does your district have PPE and distancing requirements in place? Yes – A

Do bathrooms have warm water, ample soap and sanitizers? Yes – A

Is every classroom equipped with hand sanitizer? Yes* – A

  • Every classroom has sanitizer “like nobody’s business,” says Fierman. In addition, every student is issued hand sanitizer (as appropriate for his or her age). The question says “equipped” and there are no “sanitizer stations” but plenty of sanitizer available.

Testing and Tracking: (Statewide C) GMUSD – A

Are Daily Health Checks required of students and staff? Yes – A

Have administrators coordinated with public health officials on testing and tracing? Yes* – A

  • There is a weekly meeting with representatives of the Department of Health and coordination between the school nurses and the regional nurse on a number of issues including testing and tracing.

Adequate Staffing: (Statewide D) GMUSD – B

Is there enough custodial staff in each building to conduct appropriate daily deep cleaning? Yes* – A

  • Before the pandemic, the schools had planned to cut back on custodial hours but reversed course in light of the cleaning needs in reopening. Fierman says that she believes “deep” cleaning would take more time than would be available between the end of school on one day and the following morning. That said, custodial staff are doing “more cleaning than usual” including “high touch” areas and using electrostatic spray cleaners to disinfect places like lockers and bathrooms while classes are in session.

Does your district have enough bus drivers and attendants to implement safety procedures? Yes – A

Does your district have enough substitutes to handle any Covid-related staffing shortages? No* – C

  • “There are never enough substitutes even in normal times,” says Fierman. She is hopeful that if teachers have to stay out for quarantine but are not symptomatic, that para-educators can fill in with remote guidance from the teachers.

Ventilation: (Statewide F) GMUSD – B+

Has your district inspected HVAC systems and ordered repairs when necessary? Yes – A

Are there operational windows in all classrooms and workspaces? No* – B+

  • According to Fierman there are operating windows in all classrooms and work spaces in the elementary schools and almost all in the high school. There are a small number of windowless rooms in the high school.

Contingency Plans: (Statewide D Plus)  GMUSD – A

Are there plans to close buildings or districts to contain outbreaks? Yes – A

Has your district implemented plans for remote learning if schools must close again? Yes* – A

  • Fierman noted that “implementing means carrying them out,” and said that the schools have plans but have not “implemented” them because schools hadn’t even opened at the time of the survey.

Plans for safe isolation who become ill or have a positive test? Yes – A

Statewide Guidance: (Statewide C)  GMUSD – A

How supportive is Agency of Education on the local level for reopening during the pandemic? No basis for grading

  • Fierman says that she would not feel fully comfortable with an overall statewide plan that would not take into consideration what’s happening on the local level.

Did shifting physical distancing guidance cause anxiety and confusion? No basis for grading

  • “Of course it did,” says Fierman who noted that the TRSU schools are remaining consistent with the original guidance of 6 feet of separation (or as close to 6 as is possible) rather than going to 3 feet as a  way to minimize anxiety. Fierman noted that this was an example of local schools doing what they feel is best for students and staff by going beyond the state guidance.

Was a school nurse appointed Covid-19 Coordinator of Your District? Yes – A

Did your district create a work group with multiple educators as recommended by state guidance? Yes – A

And the overall grade is…

Three of the five staff members conducting health checks at GM on Tuesday morning. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

The Telegraph took Fierman’s answers and translated them into letter grades. A “yes” without any qualifiers is an A. The grade for a “no” is based on how far away it is from being a “yes.” See the window question under Ventilation. Once all of the questions were graded, we averaged out the grades for each category, then added up the six categories included in the survey to arrive at an overall grade, which we reckon is a B+.

At the end of June, the Vermont NEA called on Gov. Phil Scott to establish a “task force” to begin statewide planning for the reopening of schools.  Earlier that month, Scott and the Agency of Education had announced that schools would reopen in the fall and issued guidelines for health and safety, leaving much of the local planning to districts and supervisory unions. Scott rejected the NEA’s task force noting that the planning being done by the state already included a number of stakeholders in the process.

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Filed Under: Covid 19 CoverageEducationEducation NewsFeaturedFrequently Asked QuestionsReopenings

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