Students address school board regarding BHS plans

Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 5:07 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - As the Burlington School District continues contemplating what’s next for Burlington High School following its sudden closure last month because of PCB contamination, students are weighing in.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, two Burlington High School students addressed the board on behalf of their classmates. Sophomore Julia Hondal and Junior Rebecca Cunningham echoed what many parents are saying: remote learning is having significant impacts on students' mental health.

“Some kids are finding it difficult to motivate themselves and to complete their homework on time," said Cunningham.

“And students are dealing with a lot of technical issues and they’re spending too much time alone instead of developing their social skills,” Hondal said. “Have you ever considered what the students want as a plan to go back to school?”

Cunningham and Hondal told the school board their peers are stressed not knowing exactly when they’ll return to in-person instruction. They pushed the board for an answer.

Superintendent Tom Flanagan responded by saying he understands that concern but said there’s “no definitive timeline.”

Flanagan said the board has identified and reviewed one potential alternate space and the hope is to move in by early January. But he said there are big decisions to make, such as the cost, before they can commit. “I still think that we can get something accomplished and get into a building in second semester," Flanagan said. "We have not passed the time where that’s not possible yet but I also don’t want to promise and not have us not make that.”

Parents also called into the meeting and reiterated their stance that BHS should re-open. They continue to question the science behind the Health Department’s recommendation to shut down the school. They’re calling on the school board and the Health Department to reassess.

In a letter to parents, the Health Department announced it is standing by its recommendation.

“PCBs are a group of 209 individual chemicals many of which stay in our bodies for years — often decades. Their half-lives are up to 70 years. When there is even a single year of exposure to someone who is going to become pregnant or breastfeed, this can lead to exposures in the next generation. In other words, students and teachers exposed to PCBs at BHS will likely pass on PCBs to their children,” the letter stated.

No decision was made on Tuesday regarding the next step for the high school.

The board is still considering the three options they presented before the Burlington City Council on Monday: return to BHS, move to an alternate space for two to three years while the remodeling project continues and move back in once its complete, or build a new high school.

The board also went over pros and cons of all three options.

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How widespread is Vt. school PCB problem?

State working on plan to address possibility of PCBs in more Vermont schools

Some Burlington tech students to return to in-person classes next week

Burlington School District to look for new location for BHS students

Burlington school leaders call on state to fund PCB contamination cleanup

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