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Vermont teachers call for safety as schools reopen

Published: Aug. 3, 2020 at 7:26 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2020 at 12:00 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Teachers in Vermont are demanding a seat at the table when it comes to decisions around reopening schools.

About 50 teachers and students rallied at the Vermont Statehouse Monday, calling on Gov. Phil Scott to make sure reopening is safe and equitable.

About a dozen teachers spoke at the podium on the Statehouse steps. Some of them demanded to be included in the reopening talks at the state level, while others insisted that schools not reopen at all. Others asked questions and shared their back-to-school concerns just six weeks before returning to the classroom.

“We gather here today because there are still way too many unanswered questions,” said one speaker. “Are we going to have adequate funding so that there is enough nursing staff? Enough custodial staff? Enough mental health and counseling staff to keep schools safe?”

Those against reopening criticized Gov. Phil Scott for making— what they call— an unjust and unsafe decision to send students and faculty back to school before there’s a coronavirus vaccine.

“Unless or until there is one, I don’t see how it’s ethical to make teachers go in and risk their own lives and of course, the lives of their families, loved ones and the students,” Montpelier High School teacher Joe Carroll said.

Teachers say they still have a lot of questions about how schools will get cleaned and what the protocol is if someone gets sick at school.

“Do we close it down? Do we keep it open? The plan is people are going to get sick and we’re going to keep the schools open and people are probably going to die. That’s the plan right now and that’s not good enough,” said Eric Hutchins, a teacher at Lamoille Union High School.

Students echo those concerns.

Sisters Makaila and Ari Dorcely, who attend Springfield High School, are worried about the potential impacts in-person learning will have on students’ mental and physical health. As excited as they are for their senior and freshman years, they don’t think it’s worth the risk.

“I was really looking forward to senior year but I really think that it’s a priority for people to be safe rather than to have my senior year experience. I’d rather people stay safe,” said Makaila.

“It will be very different but I think that our lives are more important than money or education right now because you can always go back to school but you can’t get your life back,” said Ari.

Those who support reopening say they feel comfortable going back but only upon their specific requests being addressed.

They want to ensure job and pay security for all employees, invest in school funding and broadband infrastructure to support remote learning, and develop science-based statewide protocols for weekly testing and tracing.

Their final demand is to cancel rent and mortgage payments, and provide child care, unemployment benefits and paid sick leave to all Vermont families during the pandemic.

They want the governor and Vermont Education Secretary Dan French to hear all teachers’ voices and take them into account when making reopening decisions.

“We need to make sure that all school staff is having their voices heard. That their discomfort is being recognized as real because people’s health is on the line,” said Cynthia Tighe, a teacher at Lamoille Union High School.

WCAX News reached out to Governor Scott’s office for comment after the rally wrapped up around 7 p.m. Monday night. We had not yet heard back when this article was published.

Copyright 2020 WCAX. All rights reserved.

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