By Nancy Richardson, Contributor

When Champlain Valley School District (CVSD) opens its schools on September 8 it will be among the very few districts in the country that will open with the low level of community spread necessary for success. At Monday night’s CVSD school board meeting, Superintendent Elaine Pinckney moved down the list of essential elements for a successful school reopening: low level of virus in the community; the ability to social distance at six feet; stable staffing; school grouping matching thousands of students with appropriate teachers; complying with Health Department and Agency of Education guidance; and effective contact tracing and reactive measures for positive cases. Although last week Governor Phil Scott altered social distancing guidelines for elementary school students from six feet to three feet, CVSD is adhering to the six-feet guideline for all students.

Of the 4,000 students in the system, 3,408 students will select that hybrid model of instruction that includes two days per week in school and three days of varying remote learning activities. Three hundred and fifty students have selected the remote model. Pinckney stated that Jeff Evans, CVSD director of learning and innovation, is in the process of “designing an entire remote school program for 350 students and 19 teachers. The remote program will be 100 percent aligned with the curriculum.” The most important element of a successful opening, according to Pinckney, will be building confidence that positive cases can be handled in a safe and efficient manner, with limited disruption to the system. With more rapid testing being developed, students in groups that may have a positive case may be able to get back to school more rapidly than is now the case.

The list of protective equipment that has been purchased for the opening is extensive and wide-ranging: plexiglass guards for students seated at round tables; air filters; masks and face guards; disinfectant and sprayers; temperature monitors at school and on buses, thermometers; and special disinfectant wraps for frequently touched surfaces. The district is in the process of purchasing new software and internet softspots to ensure effective remote instruction. To complicate the already complex food service delivery, the district has purchased carts with warmers and coolers for moving food to classrooms where students will be eating. An entire new delivery system of food for students in the remote program is being developed.

A group of teachers and staff are currently working on the development of outdoor education capabilities and the equitable opportunities for all students to be involved.

The governor recently announced the development and funding of 18 childcare centers across the state for working parents. CVSD has developed a child care and instructional support system for school staff, and is working with several community organizations to provide day care for families in the community. That work is in progress.

The opening of the school board meeting was devoted to an overview of the special education system. The special education system is protected and prescribed by federal and state law and is based on programs designed for individual students. Yet, the philosophy of the delivery system in Vermont is that special education programs are a part of the general education programs and students must be provided services within the general system wherever possible. Some special education students must receive intense service and some students are not able to gain access to remote instruction, requiring that they attend school for more than the prescribed two days per week. The provision of special education services during the pandemic was piloted in a program this summer and that program was a success, according to Meghan Roy, director of special services for the school district.

The entire reopening system has been designed with intensive focus, hours of meetings around design and implementation, and in a collaborative creative effort. The emphasis has been on the provision of equitable and effective programs while maintaining the ability of the system to pivot rapidly if community virus becomes widespread.