A dozen staff members of the Lamoille North merged school district have opted out for the 2020-2021 school year, and a dozen more are only teaching remotely this fall.

Students return to school for a combination of in-person and remote learning Tuesday, Sept. 8. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers and support staff were offered several options for the upcoming school year.

“All leave options were available to all staff,” said Charleen McFarlane, the human resources director for the district.

Those options included resigning, retiring early, requesting an unpaid leave of absence, or applying to become remote-only instructors.

Twelve staffers across the six-town district — Belvidere, Cambridge, Eden, Hyde Park, Johnson and Waterville —opted out of the school year, but one of those staffers is leaving for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus.

All of those opting out are support staff, not classroom teachers.

“It just happened that so far only support staff have taken advantage and made the requests,” McFarlane said.

The 24 staff who have either opted out or asked to work remotely represent roughly 5 percent of the educators in Lamoille North; there are 224 teachers across the district, 180 support staff and 26 administrators.

The school district is offering four days of in-school learning to children of staff and faculty members who live in the district and whose children already attend Lamoille North schools.

The majority of students in the district are returning for only two days of in-person instruction, but teachers and other staff have be in the school building four days every week.

Lamoille North administrators said that if they didn’t offer the four-day option for children of staff and faculty members, they wouldn’t be able to work productively.

“Our own staff want to work,” McFarlane said. “We received so many grateful comments from staff for offering this.

The district briefly considered offering the same choice to staff and faculty whose children attend school outside Lamoille North to make it easier for them to work full-time, but the district’s legal team said it was too complex, involved too much red tape and could potentially bring COVID-19 into a Lamoille North school from someone outside of the district, McFarlane said.

All students in the district will learn remotely on Wednesdays, and other families were granted exceptions to send their children to school four days a week.

“We were able to accommodate most of the people who requested four days a week,” said Lamoille North Superintendent Cat Gallagher. “Not quite all due to the size of the classrooms in certain grades, but most.”

Distance learning instructors

Twelve other staff member, mainly classroom teachers and special educators, asked to be able to teach remotely.

That includes five elementary school teachers, two from the middle school and five high school teachers. Each was assigned their own cohort of students who are also only doing remote learning when school starts next week.

That request paired up nicely with requests by some families across Lamoille North for their children to remain remote learners for the foreseeable future.

In total, the district has 120 middle and high school students who will continue to learn remotely and 154 elementary students. Each of the 12 remote teachers have been assigned a class of students whose education they will oversee until all students either return to school full time or once again become remote learners.

Each of the teachers will have students from across the district, instead of one particular school, but they are teaching material specific to their area of expertise and the age group they’ve traditionally worked with.

“All schools are sharing their resources,” Gallagher said.

Other help for staffers

As part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Lamoille North staffers can receive paid leave if they are required to quarantine for any amount of time.

The act offers paid leave for up to 12 weeks with two-thirds of their regular pay. And, that paid leave won’t come out of the regular leave they accumulate over the course of a school year.

That’s good news for teachers and support staff, particularly if the childcare or daycare facility a staff member sends his or her children to closes due to COVID-19, then they can apply for paid leave to be at home with their children.

“That’s a big one,” McFarlane said about the possibility of daycares closing, and it could affect school staff across the state.

She said the program has already come in useful and been utilized by some staff.

“We’ve had people who have traveled into yellow zones and had to quarantine,” McFarlane said, citing the example of several who dropped off older children for their first year of college.

“We’ve been quite fortunate with our staff so far this year,” she said. “The precautions are happening, everyone is pretty excited and we are poised well to have our students return.”

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