South Burlington High School alum Max Hodgeson

South Burlington High School alum Max Hodgeson, Class of 2010, helped to pump school spirit by painting a wolf mural in the cafeteria over the summer.

The first day of school for most South Burlington students starts next week, meaning it’s time to restock classroom essentials: pencils, notebooks, protractors — and face masks.

Yes, face masks, for all students and staff.

The South Burlington School District plans to usher students and staff back into classrooms in person five days a week, starting Aug. 23 for new students, sixth and ninth graders, and Aug. 24 for all other grades except for Gertrude Chamberlin students, who will start Aug. 30 as summer construction wraps up. An indoor masking requirement will be in place for all people on campus, but masks will not be required outside.

In his letter to families last week, Superintendent David Young cited guidance from the Centers of Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which both recommend children older than 2 wear face masks, as well as staff regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status. Children younger than 12 are still not eligible to receive a vaccine.

Remote learning will not be available for students this year, Young added, even if a classroom needs to quarantine due to COVID-19 spread — knock on wood.

Some activities and classes might differ from the pre-pandemic norm. Singing will take place outside, field trips will be evaluated upon request through the superintendent and physical education will happen outside as often as possible, Young wrote in the letter.

Outdoor tents used last school year for classes and activities will return, and routine cleanings and frequent handwashing will continue. To minimize spread, Young added that volunteers, including mentors and parents or guardians, will not be allowed on site.

The federal Department of Agriculture program allowing Vermont schools to provide free meals to all students continues through this school year, meaning all children can eat free breakfast and lunch at school regardless of household income eligibility.

In July, director of nutritional services Rhonda Ketner noted that about 500 students access free meals through the federal meals program. During the pandemic, they saw food needs rise at the area elementary schools and fall slightly at the high school.

Prior to the program, the South Burlington School District fell into the 75 percent of Vermont districts that offered a free and reduced meal program for qualifying families.

Why is it that every fall, the first day of school seems to come too soon? Young addressed this as well, noting the administration has received many questions about why classes seem to kick off early.

“It has to do with the number of instructional days required by the state and the five additional days we need to add,” Young explained. The district usually starts school before Labor Day, with the exception of last year, as schools navigated how to return to learning while still in a pandemic.

“I realize this is a lot to take in and I encourage you all, if you have the time during these days before school begins (and especially afterward), to take care of your mental well-being,” Young wrote.

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