As district weighs Burlington HS options, some students opting out

Published: Nov. 13, 2020 at 7:10 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - There are no decisions yet on where or when Burlington High School students will return to in-person learning. While the district weighs its short and long-term alternatives, some BHS students aren’t waiting for a decision.

“We have to find a solution,” said Burlington School District Superintendent Tom Flanagan. He says the Burlington School District won’t stop searching for an alternative after Burlington High School was shuttered in September because of PCB contamination. “Bottom line is we want to get students in-person learning. We’ve heard loud and clear from our community and we know it’s best for students to be in person.”

But while most of the 970 high schoolers are working remotely while they wait, the decision not to reopen BHS is driving some students out of the district. Since the fall semester began, district leaders say 20 students have left BHS, with eight opting for private school and the others either moving away or switching to home schooling. On the other hand, the district says six students have transferred into the high school since September.

“I want our families to stay. I think we have a really great school district, and I know it’s been hard particularly for our high schoolers as they’re having these questions about what the school building will look like,” Flanagan said. “I think once we get settled with a clear next step in where we’re going to go, the community and our students will feel better and will continue to choose Burlington School District.”

The district is in negotiations to transform the former Macy’s building into an alternate worksite. The space would be a long-term option until a return to the BHS campus is possible. But Flanagan says the soonest kids could get into those reconstructed classrooms is late January or early February.

In the meantime, the district is in talks with the University of Vermont to teach BHS students on campus during the college’s holiday break. If that doesn’t work out, Flanagan says they’ll send the high schoolers to Edmund’s Middle and Elementary School every Wednesday for in-person education. “We’re having really positive and productive conversations,” he said.

Still, as COVID cases continue to rise in Vermont and schools across the country are suspending in-person education, Flanagan says he hopes the district’s efforts won’t be wasted. “I want to make sure all this work to get us in person will get us in person.”

If the former Macy’s owners accept the district’s deal, students might remain in that space for the next two to three years, while the future of the BHS campus is determined.

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