School buildings won’t fully re-open in fall

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

District settles on ‘hybrid’ model

Unable to maintain the recommended 6 feet of physical distancing inside school buildings, the Champlain Valley School District is planning to open to only half its student body at a time during the upcoming school year. 

In an unprecedented schedule created to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic, students will attend school two days per week — with half a school’s student population attending Mondays and Tuesdays, for example, and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be a day for teacher planning and as-needed student support. 

The district will create a plan to continue teaching online during the three days when a student is not in school. It also will have a fully remote learning option that families can choose. 

“We are not really comfortable with the idea of bringing back all of our kids,” Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said during a videoconference meeting of the Champlain Valley School Board on Tuesday. “We are working from imperfect options, and we are choosing the best of those imperfect options.”

Students and teachers will be required to wear masks while in school buildings and maintain 6 feet of physical distance. There will also be a requirement that parents or school staff affirm that each student is symptom-free before entering a school building or boarding a school bus. 

In some cases, that may mean parents taking daily temperatures and filling out a survey online. Sometimes the wellness check will be left to school staff, either aboard a bus or at a school entrance. 

“We are trying to figure out what is the best, most efficient way to do this,” Pinckney said. 

Families with multiple children in the district will have their school schedules aligned, she said. Still, the remote learning days will place a burden on working parents that the district has not yet grappled with.

“We know that is a tough one,” Pinckney acknowledged, “and we need to figure it out.”

The district is also trying to find a child care option for its teachers. Champlain Valley Union High School is a bit further ahead in nailing down schedule details than the district’s K-8 schools, which are expected to update the board at its Aug. 4 meeting. CVU Principle Adam Bunting said Tuesday that the school is planning to have half the students come in Mondays and Thursdays and the other half Tuesdays and Fridays, with remote learning for students on the three days they are not in the building. 

Students will have assigned seats in their classes to help with contact tracing if there is a coronavirus case in the school. 

“We need to be able to respond to the Department of Health with a reliable map of where a student has been,” said Bunting. 

The district plans to survey parents in the coming days about whether they will participate in the hybrid schedule or choose an all-remote-learning option. The district plans to partner with an organization out of Springfield, Vt. — the Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative — to offer remote classes. 

“We are making sure it’s the same standard curriculum,” Pinckney said. 

Teachers are also being asked whether they would prefer to teach only remotely, with priority for remote teaching given to those with existing health conditions or with a family member with an existing health condition. 

High school sports are expected to run this fall, Bunting said.