Vermont’s Catholic schools may put their faith in a higher power but, like public school districts around the state, when it comes to reopening for in-person learning, they also rely on a plan.
The Diocese of Burlington’s re-opening plan for its 10 affiliated Catholic schools, titled “United in Faith, Returning with C.A.R.E.” — the last word stands for Communities and Academics Reimagined Effectively — includes many of the same protocols as public schools. There are guidelines about face coverings, hand washing and physical distancing.
As evidenced by the plan’s title, it also includes a note on faith and God: “As schools within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, we are proud of our longstanding history of strong communities supporting our students’ faith formation and academic excellence,” the plan states. “This is rooted in our belief that the most effective and meaningful formation in the faith takes place when students and teachers are together in community. It is in community that we most authentically encounter the Heart of Christ and in our schools, it is His Sacred Heart that illumines our studies in all academic areas.”
Some schools plan on more in-person school days than the public schools. Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington plans to be open for in-person learning for four days, with Wednesday fully remote.
The reopening plan for Bishop John A. Marshall School in Morrisville, which educates students through 8th grade, but it strives for five days a week, fully knowing it has to prepare for zero days, or somewhere in between.
Bishop Marshall’s plan noted that, well, kids are kids.
“As a school community, we cannot deny the possibility of any germ and/or virus exposure through participation in any of our programs. Our children are not robots and theirs is a language of love and affection. We will make every effort possible to maintain the safety measures contained in this document; however, we wish to emphasize that in-person learning presents risk of exposure to any number of germs and viruses: including COVID-19.”
Among the diocese’s rules, there are 14 listed instances that require hand washing — if students learn little else this academic year, they’ll be experts in clean hands.
Like public schools, the diocese expects all students and staff to wear face coverings, but the language regarding masks is a bit laxer, more “should” than “shall.”
“Facial coverings should be worn by all staff and students while in the building when physical distancing cannot be maintained,” the reopening plan states.
The mask policy also notes caveats from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that young children and those with certain health and behavior problems could be exempted from masking up.
Bishop Marshall is much stricter in its mask requirements, down to the uniformity of them, much like their maroon-and-white school outfits. Parents will put their kids’ masks on for them while in the car, and the school will provide another if the student loses or ruins it. If it gets to the point that the school is doing too much of that, it might start charging for replacement masks.
The diocese is leaving up to individual schools the decision of whether to do the daily health screenings at the school or do them at home before heading to school.
If the screening is done at school, parents who drop their kids off will be required to stay during the screening so they can take the student home if the health screening isn’t passed. And any school employee who fails the screening will be sent home, and a contingency plan will be developed to make sure someone else can cover the staffer’s job duties.
If screenings are done at home, parents and guardians will have to sign an agreement with the school promising to do the screening every day before going to school. And if kiddo is sick, kiddo stays home.
For bus riders it’s up to the bus company to do health screenings before students board. Bus riders will, therefore, undergo two daily screenings, all before entering school. Bishop Marshall students don’t ride the bus.
After school, coaches and advisors will be responsible for making sure the students abide by the same safety measures they do while in school. Sports rules will be the same as for all public schools, as set by the Vermont Principals Association, which governs organized varsity sports.
If students do not participate in after-school activities, they have to be picked up or otherwise be off campus by 3 p.m.
In order to keep a controlled environment, the only people allowed in the school will be students and those responsible for their learning. Parents picking up kids for appointments or other reasons will wait outside and have faculty fetch the student.
Parents popping in used to be a welcome occurrence at Bishop Marshall, but in lieu of that, the school will distribute a newsletter at the end of each school day so parents can get a constant sense of what’s going on in those walls.
Parent/teacher conferences will be done remotely, as will regular meetings of the PTO.
At Bishop Marshall, events such as Back to School Night, Homecoming, Grandparents' Thanksgiving Luncheon, the Christmas Craft Fair and the Christmas concert are canceled for 2020.
“We know this school year will look much different than any other school year any of us have known, but we promise to work to fulfill our mission each and every day, whether we are together or apart this year,” the Bishop Marshall plan states. “We are committed to educating all of our students with compassion, love and dignity, while encouraging them to reach their fullest potential by utilizing and growing their God-given talents.”