The vast majority of local students will be back in school, learning in person, for two days every week when the school year officially begins Tuesday, Sept. 8.
At least that’s the plan right now for almost all the schools in the Lamoille North Supervisory Union, which includes Belvidere, Cambridge, Eden, Hyde Park, Johnson and Waterville.
Last Friday, the Lamoille North school board heard reopening plans from school administrators and staff across the district. Under the district’s hybrid plan, which features a mix of in-person and remote learning, half the student body will be in school on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half will be in class on Thursdays and Fridays. Everyone will learn remotely on Wednesdays.
The school’s remote learning system, curriculum and online platforms have been improved and streamlined since school got out last spring, school officials say.
Students and families across Lamoille North can ask to be remote full time, or be on campus four days a week, only working remotely on Wednesdays.
“We’ll accommodate any family that wants their students to come to school four days a week,” Gallagher said, as long as all safety guidelines are still being met.
Directives and guidance from the state Department of Health and Agency of Education are constantly changing so there’s always the possibility these plans could change.
That was made apparent on Tuesday, Aug. 11, when during his weekly press conference Gov. Phil Scott encouraged schools to move toward full-time, in-person education for children in grades K-5. That’s still not the plan in Lamoille North, Gallagher said, but it shows how fluid the situation still is as districts scramble to get plans in place to reopen.
“We’re doing a crazy amount of planning for something that may not even be,” Gallagher said on Tuesday. “I’ve cautioned families and staff, we could see any day the announcement to fully open, or fully close.”
Gallagher compared Lamoille North’s reopening plans to Gov. Scott’s slow reopening of the state’s economic spigot. Lamoille North will reassess its current plan after 30 to 45 days.
Ultimately, Gallagher said, the goal is to have all students return to school five days a week, but only if it can be done safely. If the number of new COVID-19 cases in Vermont begins to spike, the district could return to remote learning until the pandemic again subsides.
“We need to do this safely,” Gallagher told the board and the 150 people who tuned in to the online meeting last Friday. Gallagher fully expects there will be a return to full-time remote learning for all students at some point during the school year.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, it will happen,” she said.
A specific reopening plan has been developed for each school campus in Lamoille North, but larger blanket plans have been developed for schools that serve each age group.
Here’s a quick overview of those plans:
• Elementary schools — The five elementary schools in the district, Cambridge Elementary, Eden Central School, Hyde Park Elementary, Johnson Elementary and Waterville Elementary will follow the basic hybrid model. Half the student body learns in person Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, while the other half learns remotely, with Wednesday being a day of remote learning for all.
• Pre-K – State guidance has been slow for those who educate the state’s youngest students, so there is no concrete plan in place for pre-K students.
“We’re waiting for official written guidance,” said Janet Murray, the early education coordinator for the district. “We’re going to meet the educational needs of our youngest learners” in a safe and healthy environment, she told the school board. Ultimately, she expects pre-K schedules to mirror that of elementary school-aged kids.
• Lamoille Union Middle School – Middle schoolers will follow the hybrid model, with a twist based on age. Only seventh graders will be on campus Monday and Tuesday while eighth graders will be on campus Thursday and Friday. The middle school typically keeps students in pods throughout the school year, which will be expanded to promote more social distancing.
• Lamoille Union High School – While following the district’s hybrid model of two days on campus, three days off, most students at the high school will adopt what Principal Brian Schaffer calls an octave plan for classes. Basically, students will take two classes a quarter for a total of eight over the year. That’s how many they typically take, but by focusing on just two each quarter will help students take a deeper dive into those subjects.
• The Green Mountain Technology and Career Center —This will be the only Lamoille North school to offer four days of in-person learning for all students. The hands-on nature of the school’s programs and how isolated each program is from the others means students can more safely return to school for four days, director Erik Remmers said.
Tech Center students will learn remotely on Wednesdays, with a deep clean of the school planned for that day each week.
“The state could compel us to do something different at any time,” said Gallagher. “If the modeling suggests we can open up more, we will,” she said. Until then, it’s a hybrid schedule for almost everyone.