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A pandemic boost for Baptist school

Less restrictive Covid protocols attract new students to Trinity

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Enrollment at Trinity Baptist School has risen roughly 25 percent since the start of the pandemic.

During the 2020-2021 school year, the increase was mostly the result of families wanting (or needing) their children to be in school full time, instead of the learn-from-home options offered at local public schools.

Enrollment increased again this school year as the Baptist school on Mountain View Road offered a mask-choice classroom environment different than the indoor mask mandates imposed by public schools. According to pastor and school administrator Rob McIlwaine, about 90 percent of Trinity’s roughly 100 K-12 students do not wear masks in class.

“We told parents that masks would be their choice and that we would support that,” McIlwaine said.

The school’s first close brush with Covid arose this week, when an older sibling of two Trinity students tested positive Monday. The two students were picked up early from school and will remain out of school until they test negative, McIlwaine said. The school asks parents to keep their children home and to get them tested to rule out Covid if they are sick, and it follows “the Vermont and CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines on quarantining strictly,” McIlwaine said. 

“It would be a game-changer if these two students come up with a positive test,” McIlwaine said. “We would probably go to … students and staff wearing masks until we get to the point where we think there is not going to be spread.”

The majority of the school’s enrollment growth has come in the K-2 age range. A bigger draw than mask choice this year has been the alternative Trinity offers to public school teachings around racial history and gender fluidity, McIlwaine said.

In 2020, however, enrollment growth was fueled primarily by Trinity’s less restrictive Covid protocols, particularly its retention of in-person instruction.

“If you have two working parents and the local public school was only offering a hybrid (schedule) where they are in school some days and not the others, that wasn’t working for them,” McIlwaine said. “Parents needed their young ones in school.”

Trinity draws students from Williston, Essex, Milton, Georgia and as far away as Addison County.

According to a VTDigger report published last week, Vermont school districts are still recovering from last year’s learn-from-home schedule, with acute behavioral issues cropping up in several public schools across the state.

Teachers in Addison County have described damage and destruction of school property and increased classroom disruptions. After a year where kids could “sign on and off at will” during remote learning, some are “really having a difficult time reengaging,” Superintendent Catherine Gallagher of the Lamoille North School District told VTDigger.

Williston Schools Lead Principal Greg Marino wrote in an Oct. 8 note to families that incidences of vandalism at Williston schools have been on the increase this fall, due largely to “challenges” on the social video platform TikTok that students are carrying out.

“I don’t even know how to explain it,” Rutland Northeast Superintendent Jeanne Collins told VTDigger. “It’s almost like people have forgotten how to behave in school.” 

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