Students in the Lamoille North Supervisory Union school district faced several changes and challenges this year, perhaps the most monumental being the return to full-time, in-person learning this fall for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic sent students home in March 2020.

In the spring, light appeared at the end of the long tunnel that was part-time remote learning for the school district. In March, teachers began receiving COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Through a combination of in-person and remote learning, and strict quarantining approaches for school community members who tested positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts, the district managed to keep case numbers low. Just 31 cases were recorded in the district a year into the pandemic.

In celebration, students held a masked, outdoor prom at Boyden Valley Winery in Cambridge with an “enchanted garden” theme.

After a statewide initiative to bring children of all ages back to school this fall, including children under the age of 11, for whom vaccines were not yet available, those case numbers inevitably grew.

Despite protests from a vocal minority of parents, the district, like almost all schools across the state, mandated masking in their buildings.

As of Dec. 17, the total number of COVID-19 cases across the school district, including the Green Mountain Technology and Career Center, had ballooned to 129, with the lion’s share of case counts found in elementary schools.

Early outbreaks at Hyde Park and Johnson Elementary Schools had administrators scrambling to contract trace with little assistance from the Vermont Department of Health, but by the time an outbreak of cases at Cambridge Elementary School began in November, the response effort had been honed into a science, administrators said.

Though cases continue to pop up throughout the district and the highly contagious Omicron variant is in country, recent approval for COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 has provided a new way to help prevent the worst symptoms of the virus in younger children.

Masking policies haven’t been the only area in which parents and administrators have sometimes clashed. The year ended with a kerfuffle in Waterville after parents held a gun raffle for a non-school related field trip, a fundraiser the local elementary school and Lamoille North administration condemned after they learned about it.

While the elementary schools in the district have seen the worst of COVID-19 and quarantining this year, Lamoille Union High School has also seen its fair share of changes and challenges.

In April, after longtime principal at the high school Brian Schaffer resigned amid controversy, Bethann Pirie was named interim principal.

Pirie is a Hyde Park native and was a teacher at Hyde Park Elementary before becoming dean of students at the high school before her promotion this spring.

“It’s an incredible honor to serve the Lamoille North community,” Pirie said prior to the 2021-2022 school year. “I grew up in this area, and so I have deep roots here. My experiences really do impact who I am and what I bring to the table.”

Pirie spoke at the spring’s commencement ceremony and has been seeing high schoolers through one of the most trying moments in modern memory.

This has included a notable number of physical altercations and threats that involved arrests from the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department, an issue the school is hoping to curb with the reinstallment of a student resource officer in the school.

“There’s added stress here, there’s no way that I could deny that there is, but our goal is always the same. It is to support our community and our students every day and regardless of the stress, that’s what we’re going to do. Our teachers are doing an incredible job with that,” Pirie said, in a sentiment that could pertain to any of the past school year’s many challenges.

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