BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Keeping Vermont students out of school the rest of the year is the next best step to slow the spread of the coronavirus -- that was the message from Governor Phil Scott Friday following his announcement that in-person learning will not resume.
Scott says students, parents and teachers have never been faced with a task quite like this, but he says that he believes Vermont's educators have the tools and creativity to keep students engaged despite having no roadmap moving forward.
"I know this news is incredibly difficult. Let's face it, it's disappointing, frustrating, and just plain sad. Sad for the kids, the parents, the teachers, and all school employees and my heart goes out to each and every one of you," Scott said. "These are times that require all of us to think outside of the box to find creative solutions. We must all work together to ensure we get the best outcomes for our kids."
As students, teachers, and school districts switch to new modes of learning, there's the glaring question of equity. Colchester Superintendent Amy Minor says her district is working to equip all students with computers or tablets, but she says she's concerned about students with unique needs who might fall through the cracks.
"Not just students that may not have access to the internet, but access to information in a language that is accessible to them, as we have a number of students that are learning English as a second, third, or fourth language," she said.
To try to accommodate, The Colchester district will have two kinds of online classes -- learning in real-time through video chats, and recorded videos or seminars.
"That way students can watch at their own convenience to do the task that a teacher might ask them to do in order to demonstrate knowledge of that new learning," Minor said.
When June rolls around, it's unclear what the state's response to COVID-19 will look like and if there will be any restrictions, but the governor says calling school now is aimed at giving students, families and teachers expectations of what could happen.
"It may not be good news, and I acknowledge that. This is tough stuff, but at least they know what's in front of them over the next three to four months," Scott said.
And as Vermonters navigate a new education system, minor says that the end goal is making sure students are prepared to return to school in the fall and keep learning. "They are planning on what curriculum components do we need to make sure we cover by the end of this year to make sure that each and every one of our students is on track to start next year's grade level," she said.
As for end of the year activities like graduation, Scott says we'll have to wait and see, because the state is evaluating its progress on fighting the coronavirus every day.
MIXED REACTIONS FROM STUDENTS, PARENTS TO GOVERNOR'S ORDER
There were mixed reactions Friday to Governor Phil Scott's decision to extend school closures statewide. While homes are the new classroom and neighborhoods are the new district, one group of girls is trying to bring a little fun to this new normal for students.
"It's a way to bring the whole state together," said Sydney Adreon, a Rice High School ninth grader.
Adreon along with Kaitlyn Little and her sister, Jasmine, have been quarantining together since school moved to online only.
"The time management part of this is hard because it's less structured," Jasmine admitted.
They're managing the virtual classroom, but wanted to come up with something to keep their minds off of COVID-19. "We're trying to use the spirit week to raise people's spirits," Jasmine said.
Through their Facebook group -- #VTWeGotThis -- they're encouraging unity by inviting students and families across the state to participate in a Home School Spirit Week next week.
"Just something to be apart of, you know, seeing pictures of all your friends doing it with you," Kaitlyn said.
They hope it's something to help some students who may be missing their classmates.
"Yeah, I do miss my friends and I'm going to miss softball," said Taya Lehouillier, a junior at Mill River Union High School in Clarendon. She says online learning has been a challenge, but she's thankful it's not her last year of high school. "I do feel like my year's kind of getting taken away from me, and I'm going to be a senior next year, and I cannot imagine what it's like going through that right now."
Amanda Tolbert, a Burlington mother of two, is getting help from her husband teaching their kids preschool from home while also balancing work. She says she's not surprised by the Governor Scott's decision.
"I feel like if there was any thought at all that this was going to happen, it was probably better to address it sooner rather than later so people can plan," she said.