In-person or remote: What will Vermont school districts decide?
RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - A tale of two school districts illustrates the challenges of going back to school in the COVID-19 era. Schools across our region are preparing for the new year and deciding whether that will mean having students return to school buildings or learn remotely. Our Olivia Lyons looks at two nearby school districts going in different directions.
"We know it's best for our students to be in school, in the classroom, learning in person," said Brooke Olsen-Farrell, the superintendent of the Slate Valley Unified School District.
In the Slate Valley Unified School District, grades pre-K-8 will return to in-person learning, five days a week.
Grades 9-12 at Fair Haven Union High School will take part in a hybrid model with ninth- and 10th-graders attending on "A" days, and 11th- and 12th-grade students physically going to school on "B" days.
The school day will also be shortened by about an hour and 15 minutes to allow for cleaning time, staggered arrivals and dismissals, and planning time for staff.
"Overwhelmingly, that seems to be what our community wants," Olsen-Farrell said.
The Scott administration is strongly pushing in-person learning for what doctors see is a critical need for child engagement and social development.
Lilly Morena, a school psychologist, agrees that if it is safe for students to return to school, they should. But she reminds everyone there is a lot of planning going into each district’s decision.
"District teams and administrators are really weighing the pros and the cons of different types of teaching models to try to find the one that kind of makes the best sense for their students and district," Morena said.
There are about 1,260 students in the Slate Valley District. School officials say they've heard from about 80 families who are considering homeschooling to keep their kids out of classrooms.
"There are some parents that would like a remote option but currently we are not offering that unless there is a medical reason," Olsen-Farrell said.
Less than 20 minutes down the road at Clarendon Elementary School, it has been decided all students will start out the school year remotely.
"We had some big concerns about what it's going to be like for kids," said Dave Younce, the superintendent of the Mill River Unified Union School District.
Younce’s district is choosing to keep the classrooms closed and the kids at home. They will reassess the all-remote model in October, with the goal of being in-person at the start of November.
"The concept of being in a mask all day long, having to stay distanced from each other, not getting to eat at a lunchroom cafeteria table, all the things you remember or enjoy about school, giving a kid a hug or high-fiving someone during PE class. Without that level of connection, we thought we might do more harm than good," Younce said.
Younce says some staffers retired in the spring but at the moment they are not facing any staffing issues.
But over in Fair Haven, Olsen-Farrell says as surrounding districts select hybrid or remote learning models, it makes keeping a full staff in her district difficult. This week she has received six resignations from support and teaching staffers who have decided to retire.
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