The Lamoille South school district is operating under the assumption that most, if not all, kids are coming back to school next month.
But it’s going forward with three different scenarios, hoping one of them will be just right.
These are tentative plans, most of them culled straight from the state health department playbook. It’s only a month and some change until Aug. 24, when students are scheduled to be back in school, but we’ve all seen how much can change in a month during a pandemic.
Under one scenario, nearly all students, faculty and staff would be physically present in the schools, albeit maintaining distance and sticking to the same group of people as much as possible.
On the other extreme is a 100 percent remote learning experience, similar to what students and teachers experienced between mid-March and mid-June, albeit with teachers having much more time to prepare.
Superintendent Tracy Wrend said the district is aiming for a middle path, where most students would be in the building, but instruction would still be largely online and students would be with the same group all day, with adults rotating in and out.
It’s possible for educators and students to move from one step to another, as the need arises.
“All of the pieces of our school days will be different,” Wrend said during Monday night’s school board meeting. She added that, while her heart keeps telling her the beginning of the pandemic seems so long ago, her head reminds her that educators know so much more now than they did.
“We have more tools for prevention and response than we did last March,” she said.
Wrend said Monday school officials had 41 days to prepare for students, 31 days for faculty, “and that includes weekends, and many of us do work weekends.”
In the details
Among the changes that Lamoille South students and staff can expect to see, if most kids do indeed go back to school on Aug. 24:
• Health screenings.
Students and staff will need to be screened daily at the “first point of contact,” whether that’s when they get on the bus or when they enter the school building.
• Buses and transportation.
Bus drivers and safety monitors — a new position — will have to wear face coverings. Students will be assigned seats and arranged by age, and spaced out. Physical distancing at bus stops will be encouraged, as will alternatives to riding the bus.
• Coming and going.
Signs will be posted at all school entrances and hand sanitizing stations set up just inside the door. Students will be assigned different entrances as well as arrival and departure times, and drop-off times will be staggered. Parents/caregivers won’t be allowed in the buildings.
• Face coverings.
They should be “developmentally appropriate” so kids of all ages can properly put them on, take them off, and not touch or suck on them. No masks while napping or eating, and they could be removed during outdoor activities under certain circumstances. Students who have medical or behavioral reasons for not wearing coverings shouldn’t be required to wear them, but that’s a conversation that would involve the school nurse and the child’s health care provider.
• Communal spaces.
Libraries can be opened if physical distancing can be achieved; if not, library materials must still be accessible. Gyms and cafeterias would remain closed, unless a school used them as extensions of the classroom. Fire and safety drills still need to be carried out, but with new protocols. Extracurricular activities with increased chance of virus spread, like choir, theater and band — mainly for those who play woodwind and brass instruments — ought to be avoided. Hallways should be made one-way, when possible.
• Cleaning and disinfecting.
There will be a lot of this. Period. The state has guidance on the specifics regarding ventilation and HVAC systems.
• Contact tracing.
The state health department will have a contact tracing team for when a case of COVID-19 is confirmed in a school. The schools will use assigned seating in classes and take attendance of everyone, including staff and contracted workers and anyone else who enters the building. Staff will be asked to keep a daily list of other people with whom they have close contact.
• Social and emotional health.
Schools will use screenings to identify students who need support and have access to mental health and social services partners. Students will be taught how to protect themselves. Families will be provided with activities to make them feel comfortable with sending their kids back to school, and there will be support for those who need help with food, clothing or other basic needs.
Wrend said if a learning opportunity isn’t offered in the next school year, it’s because it’s one that wasn’t offered pre-COVID, either.
Some board members wondered how many parents will feel comfortable sending their children back to school. Wrend said the deadline has come and gone for a parental survey about the next school year, and only 600 of 1,500 sent out were received back. She said the district still needs “a more robust sample size.”
“We’re living through as high-level anxiety as possible for raising our kids,” Stowe board member Tiffany Donza said. Added parent Sara Opel, “We are literally clueless as to what’s going on.”