‘There’s got to be something better’
BY JASON STARR
It’s been nearly a year since Vermont’s public school students could attend school on a regular schedule. The frustration of so many months of online learning is starting to show.
A group of parents pleaded in mid-February with Champlain Valley School District administrators to figure out a way to open school buildings to more face-to-face classroom time — especially for middle-schoolers.
Currently, students up to sixth grade attend class four days a week and learn remotely on Wednesdays. Students in seventh and eighth grades are in classrooms two days a week and learn remotely three days a week. The district designed this “hybrid” model to abide by state and federal pandemic guidance requiring physical distancing between students.
Parents speaking at the Champlain Valley School Board’s Feb. 16 meeting said the length of time and reduced quality of remote learning is having a cumulative effect.
“I really think we are doing a disservice to these kids, their education and their mental health by not having them in school,” said parent Christina Sicard. “We really need to be focused on getting these kids back in school five days a week.”
Misty Curtis, mother of a seventh-grader, said the quality of online remote instruction is inferior.
“They are only getting a few hours, if that, of school” on remote days, she said. “I know the teachers are juggling a lot, but I don’t feel that the level of education is being met … We are looking to see if there will be a point where this will change.”
Gov. Phil Scott, in his January inaugural address, noted the shortcomings of remote learning and set a goal to return all Vermont students to the classroom full-time by April.
Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said administrators have been meeting weekly about how to accomplish that. But until federal physical distancing guidelines for students are loosened, the district’s hands are tied.
“We have to meet the guidance,” Pinckney said.
Government guidance currently calls for 6 feet of separation for students in grades seven and up, and 3 feet for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
“We just don’t have the space for 6 feet in most schools,” said district Communications Director Bonnie Birdsall.
“We are doing everything we can to explore all the different ways we might bring students back,” she added. “We all agree these kids need to be in school more and with their peers and teachers more.”
Jill Quong, the parent of a Williston Central School seventh-grader, urged administrators to “get creative” with the space available at the school, repurposing larger spaces to create middle school classrooms that can adhere to physical distancing requirements.
“What is being done? What is the timeline?” she asked. “We want some accountability as parents.”
Meanwhile, in many households, parents are working from home, unable to supervise their kids through remote learning as much as they would like.
“People are extremely exhausted,” said parent Megan Thomas. “I just feel like it’s time to try something. There’s got to be something better for these middle school kids than sitting in their bedrooms three days a week while mom and dad work.”