The vast majority of students in the Lamoille South school district are healthy enough to attend school in person, but 40 percent of parents would prefer to keep their kids at home, given the choice.
Those are some of the findings from the more than a thousand parents who filled out a survey about how school staff and faculty should plan for the 2020-21 school year.
Educators, parents and students had been prepared to head back to school Aug. 24, but Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday he will order all Vermont public school districts to hold off until Sept. 8 — two weeks later than expected in Lamoille County.
“We want schools to take the time to get this right, so students can hit the ground running,” Scott said at his Tuesday press conference.
It will be up to the school districts to decide whether to offer remote learning, in-person instruction, or a combination of the two, although Scott and Education Secretary Dan French recommended that children under 10 years old be taught in school.
“There are still a lot of options on the table,” said Lamoille South superintendent Tracy Wrend during Monday’s school board meeting. Wrend said it’s been interesting to see what other school districts have been doing, across Vermont and the country.
While Scott’s delay of the school year start gives educators breathing room, Helen Bias, who has school-age children, said Monday she thought Lamoille South would have been further along in its reopening plan. Bias said the longer the district waits to finalize its plans, the fewer options for parents who don’t want to go along with that, options such as pulling their kids from the district and sending them to private schools.
“Those doors are closing,” Bias said, noting that 13 of the 15 alternates she’s looked at have stopped taking new applications. “It’s incredibly frustrating for parents, and I feel we’re going be left with no alternative options.”
School board chair David Bickford of Morristown said no one wants solid plans more than the board and school administration.
“It’s hard to have concrete planning when the variables over which we have little control keep changing,” Bickford said. “Just as soon as we can get the plans solidified, we will share them.”
Lamoille South had been charting something of a middle course, somewhere between near-total classroom learning and completely remote learning — the way things ran in the last quarter of this past school year. The combo would be a hybrid learning model.
The results from a recent survey of parents offers a better sense of how the community feels, Wrend said. The survey, which was sent to about 1,600 people, was filled out by 1,072, which Wrend called “a really reliable sample to assist with planning.”
Here are some of the survey results:
• 25 percent of students need to ride the bus on a regular basis, but about half of all students have an adult who can supervise them until they are screened and allowed on the bus. About 81 percent of parents can get their kids to school every day.
• Only 6 percent of students walk to school.
• 92 percent say they have “regular, reliable” access to high-speed internet.
• 96 percent of students have been cleared by their doctors as healthy enough to go to school in person, and 95 percent of people in the survey respondents’ households are healthy.
• 40 percent said, given the choice between in-person and remote learning, they’d support learning from home.
Board member Dick Shanley wondered what happens with parents who just don’t want to send their kids to school just yet. And parent Elizabeth Croes asked that parents have a chance ahead of time to tour the facilities to “see if we’re comfortable with what’s being done with our children.”
Said Wrend, “It’s a concern for us, and it’s something we’ll work on as we develop our plans.”