School board focuses on health and safety guidelines

By Nancy Richardson

The Champlain Valley School District (CVSD) school board meeting on June 23 focused on a discussion of guidelines for school opening in the fall. Although final decisions will not be forthcoming for a few weeks, a basic plan has been determined.

Schools across Vermont will open in Phase 2 of the COVID-19 state plan. This means there will be a limit on how many students may be in any one class, students will have to be 6 feet apart, and small groups of students will be in contained pods to prevent large group interactions. Other precautions will be in place: masks, hand washing, and temperature taking. These health and safety guidelines will direct all other aspects of the education program and are not negotiable.

These stringent guidelines should give parents some confidence that their children will be as safe as possible in school. The implementation of the guidelines will be difficult. At 6 feet apart, it will not be possible to have classes of 25. This means other spaces in the school must be opened for classroom space, possibly including the library and cafeteria. At the high school level this implementation takes on a more complicated nature because students move among classrooms.

The administration has been working on this plan since March and has reviewed how other countries have accomplished this back-to-school effort in a safe manner. Principals have developed site plans to spread small groups of students across school sites. A regional superintendent’s meeting is held twice per week to review and discuss the best ideas for reopening schools during the pandemic. This group is also reviewing plans to improve remote instruction. The feeling is that a group meeting and discussion will surface the best ideas and implementation plans in such a unique situation.

Remote instruction will be a key adjunct for the reopening. Some parents will be hesitant to send their children to school and will opt for remote instruction. Some teachers in the high-risk category may opt to teach only in this format, and schools must be ready to shut down if illness becomes a factor. Professional development for teachers will be important in ongoing improvement of this system. To that end the administration is moving to define professional development days for this purpose. There is a proposal to trade four student days for four teacher professional development days devoted exclusively to remote instruction.

Members agreed that the most important factor is to keep all children enrolled in the system so that they can proceed with their learning. The instruction will be focused and will ensure that children can continue to make progress in the defined curriculum.

The board discussed parent participation in planning. There will be an effort to develop some Zoom meetings or encourage participation by some other means. A parent survey went out last week. Decisions on the implementation will be made public as soon as possible. Creative ideas will be accepted. But Superintendent Pinckney emphasized that no alterations can be made in the health and safety guidelines, that each school will approach implementation in a different manner, and that all options have been discussed and decisions made based on the capabilities of each school.

The board will continue to meet over the summer and will participate in two retreat days to deal with ongoing matters that underly the business of the school district: equity, instruction, and budget matters. The 2020 budget year ended with a positive $567,000 which will improve the fund balance. This surplus was the result of the school closings that caused a reduction in services. But the FY 21/22 budget will be hampered by reductions at the state level and possible increases needed to implement health and safety guidelines and remote instruction.