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Vermont educators worry they won’t be ready to reopen schools

Published: Jul. 27, 2020 at 6:30 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 28, 2020 at 4:50 AM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Superintendents across Vermont are releasing their school reopening plans. But even as they do it, some are expressing concerns.

Superintendent Brigid Nease of the Harwood Unified Union School district wrote a letter to her community predicting many employees won’t come back, making it impossible to pull off the hybrid learning model.

At least one educator I spoke with is calling Nease courageous for putting into words what so many others are feeling right now.

In an open letter to the Harwood Unified Union School District, Superintendent Brigid Nease said, in part: "We are told to reopen the schools. That said, in most places, I think we are going to try to reopen school, and I think we will fail in ways that may have permanent, unrecoverable repercussions for our students, school systems, and community."

Click here to read the full letter from Superintendent Nease.

Vermont-NEA President Don Tinney says Nease has verbalized what many are thinking and feeling.

"It will contribute to the public discourse about the great difficulties that we are facing in reopening schools," Tinney said.

Tinney says an unscientific poll of their members shows most are afraid to return to school, others say with proper precautions they are willing to go back.

"We need to have some time to stop to figure out how we are going to do this. We are not ready yet to say we are going to open schools at the end of August," Tinney said.

In Nease's letter, she claims the Scott administration reached out to school superintendents across the state and asked if they would support an executive order to delay the start of school until after September 8. She says 43 of the 49 superintendents who responded said yes to the delay.

"I answered the survey and I said absolutely and we've already done it. I hope the governor hears that call," said David Baker, the superintendent of the Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union.

And he's already done it, pushing back the start in his supervisory union until after Labor Day.

Baker says through surveys with his students’ families, he predicts about 25% will opt to be fully remote.

"We're not letting fans go to Major League Baseball games, we're not having concerts, we're not having large gatherings, but we're asking these kids to come together. I think it's just an experiment. It may work, it may not," Baker said.

Tinney says there should be more guidance and understanding from the state level.

"How do we have all of those healthy social interactions when we're constantly reminding them to stay six feet apart from each other, put your mask on? All of those things will be an enormous challenge for teachers and their students," Tinney said.

I reached out to Superintendent Nease and never heard back. I also asked Vermont Education Secretary Dan French and state government for an interview. They refused, saying they would be available during Tuesday's news conference and sent a statement instead. It reads, in part, "our schools are unique and how each school reopens must be heavily informed by, and led by, our capable and talented local experts, including superintendents, school board members and teachers, and with feedback from parents within that district."

I also asked them about the survey of superintendents supporting an executive order to delay the start of school. They didn’t answer my question.

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