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New guidance on reopening Vermont schools raises questions

(WCAX)
Published: Jun. 18, 2020 at 6:14 PM EDT
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The new safety and health guidance for reopening Vermont schools is out but some teachers tell us something is missing. Our Olivia Lyons reports.

One topic left out of the guidance was remote learning. And the Agency of Education's overseer of arts was also left out of the planning.

I spoke with Education's Secretary Daniel French about the guidance.

"We have a need, a public health need," Vt. Education Secretary Daniel French said.

A day after the release of health and safety guidelines for reopening schools in the fall, French is standing behind the recommendations.

"Essentially it's freedom and unity, our state motto," he said.

French says this will be a community effort to ensure science is used to maintain public health. While keeping in mind there needs to be some flexibility to apply the guidance to different schools.

"Knowing that this is the first round of the new guidelines, I think that sits well with me because it means we can work on it, we can work with them," said Bill Prue, the band director at North Country Union High School.

Music teachers, like Bill Prue, knew chorus would be difficult to instruct and research shows band will also be difficult, but they say workarounds can be found.

The guidance calls choir and music that involves woodwinds and brass instruments group activities to avoid because they have the potential to generate increased respiratory droplets.

"The original reaction is shock. Music teachers want to teach and students want to learn, and it's an essential part of school," Prue said.

The representative of the arts within the Agency of Education was not included in making decisions about this first draft. French says that's because the guidance focuses on public health and not everyone is well versed in that.

"It was really important to get the public health guidance stable in that regard and then apply that to specific settings like music and the arts and so forth," French said.

Another aspect not mentioned is the continuity of learning plans. During a teachers' meeting Wednesday with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and state Sen. Tim Ashe, one teacher asked if a statewide hybrid model for remote learning will be released. She says if not, it raises issues for teachers who conduct remote learning with their own kids.

"If we're on a half-day school day and their children who happen to be in a different district are on a different schedule, that's going to create even more hardships," said Terri Ayers, who teaches first-grade in Hyde Park.

French says remote learning is not off the table, but it will be addressed once the current guidance is applied.

"The instructional continuation is on one hand remote learning, the other hand in-person instruction. And then something in between which we are calling hybrid learning. So, we still have to work on that kind of level of guidance and how it interacts with the operational piece," French said.

Secretary French tells me science is very important in determining how to keep everyone healthy. But the application of the science is one of the most important concepts because it has to be practical for a day to day schedule.

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