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Vermont schools prep for remote learning options

The school year has just started, but Vermont students are already being sent home to quarantine following positive coronavirus cases.
Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 4:14 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2021 at 8:06 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The school year has just started, but Vermont students are already being sent home to quarantine following positive coronavirus cases.

The Slate Valley Unified School District kicks off its school year Wednesday and 20 students and staff members are already in quarantine.

Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell says they are ready to welcome students, but there are also concerns.

Their plan is to make sure students get their Chromebooks on day one, ensuring continuity across all learning options.

If it’s just a handful of kids in quarantine, they’ll have to learn by themselves from home. But if it’s a whole class stuck at home, they’ll learn together with the teacher online.

Olsen-Farrell says it’s not an option for teachers to guide kids online and in the classroom at the same time.

She says doing all this work to be ready for all scenarios is taxing and nerve-wracking with minimal state guidance, but she’s confident educators can do it.

“It’s definitely taxing. Can we get through it? Absolutely. Do we have great professionals? Absolutely. I do know we can provide in-person learning and do it safely but does that mean we will have to have students and faculty go into quarantine along the way,” said Olsen-Farrell.

In the Montpelier Roxbury School District, they had to have their remote option up and going for a class in their middle school.

“That’s pretty much what we will have in place, all teachers will have a Google classroom ready to go, so they can switch relatively quickly,” Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools Superintendent Libby Bonesteel said.

She says they are relying on the experience of last year to make it happen as quickly and seamlessly as possible, but it doesn’t come without challenges. In this case, the first positive COVID case came so quickly they still had to get students laptops. She says it also goes beyond physical changes.

“Our biggest job as teachers is to build culture and climate and positivity in the class and now we have teachers having to do that online,” she said.

According to Bonesteel, in most cases, if it’s just a handful of students, they’ll have to learn by themselves from home. But if it’s a whole class stuck at home, they’ll learn together with the teacher online. It depends on the number of students out of school.

Other districts are wrestling with the same questions about getting students going remotely while maintaining continuity.

“So there are a lot of complications that go into a remote situation,” Vermont-NEA President Don Tinney said. “I think switching to remote learning is different across different grade levels and across different subject matters, and I think it’s far more complicated in the elementary schools actually.”

Tinney says access to online resources needs to be equitable. Child care needs to be thought of and the burden on teachers needs to be considered whenever a remote option is exercised.

“A response that includes everyone and a response that is humane,” said Tinney.

He says patience will be required of all parties and he hopes these early cases are isolated.

They both say it needs to be public health first, then education. And Tinney and Bonesteel agree that you can’t replace an in-person experience.

“My teaching wasn’t when the whole class was in front of me, that’s a part of it, but it was when I was sitting next to a student or a small group of students and able to differentiate and truly target skills,” said Bonesteel.

School leaders say the decision to send an entire school remote would be a combination with the health department to see too much of a community spread in the building and how many contacts there were made with a positive person.

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