From the Superintendent's Desk

Mark Tucker, M.A. - Caledonia Central Supervisory Union

School Reopening Plans Coming Soon

Introduction

On June 17th, the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE) and the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) issued a joint memorandum to school districts titled A Strong and Healthy Start:Safety and Health Guidance for Vermont Schools. You can read the entire memorandum at

https://education.vermont.gov/documents/guidance-strong-healthy-start-health-guidance.


This joint effort, led by AOE and VDH with input from a number of Superintendents, Professional Groups, VT-NEA, and a range of medical experts statewide, lays out a set of guidelines and best practices for schools to consider as we make plans to reopen in the fall. In CCSU, we were already a month into our conversations about reopening schools, and this guidance document has been instrumental in helping us to bring focus to our planning. We are committed to issuing formal plans for all of our schools by the first week of August. I am writing today to tell you where we are in this important work.


There are three Steps for school operation defined in the Strong and Healthy Start guideline. Step I is the school is closed for all in-person instruction (this is where we were from March - June). Step II, the school is open for in-person instruction with enhanced physical distancing measures. Step III, the school is open with distancing measures in place. By directive, schools will reopen in the fall at Step II; transportation will start at Step III. The Secretary of Education hopes to move all schools to Step III in a few weeks after opening.


CCSU is a geographically diverse Supervisory Union, spanning all the way from Twinfield School in Washington County to Barnet School in the southern tip of Caledonia County. As Superintendent, I serve seven schools - three PK-12 (Cabot, Danville and Twinfield) three PK-8 (Barnet, Walden and Waterford), and one PK-6 (Peacham). As we began our planning for reopening, it was immediately clear that we could not devise a single plan for all seven schools, given the diversity of grade structures, community differences, etc. So our work has focused on defining what practices and procedures could be standardized, even as we look at other procedures and practices that need more of a local flavor. The plans that you will see for your school of interest will highlight the common practices that will apply at all schools, followed by more nuanced details about other practices that will reflect the specific capacities and abilities of that local school.


SU Common Practices and Procedures

When our schools reopen, all will have these practices and procedures in common:


  • Procedures for admitting people into school - everyone entering a school will be require to do a health check, no exceptions. Adults will be required to wear face coverings, no exceptions.
  • Restrictions on who is allowed in the school building when students are present. There will be some restrictions on parents coming into the buildings when school is in session.
  • Common policies and procedures to determine when children and staff must stay home or be sent home.
  • Masks are required of all students to ride a school bus. Social Distancing will be enforced; siblings from the same household may be allowed to sit together.
  • Masks/face shields are required for staff and students. We know - and the guidelines acknowledge - that mask wearing will be challenging for some students. Students with health issues (e.g. Asthma) or sensory issues will be excused from this requirement after the family follows a review protocol involving the school nurse and possibly the Director of Special Services.
  • Each school building will maintain separate spaces for isolating symptomatic students and staff who arrive at school and are waiting to go home from others who need routine nursing (e.g., a skinned knee at recess).
  • There will be a standard suite of supported technology for Remote teaching and Learning. Staff and students will receive training on the use of these tools.
  • General limitations on Social Distancing & Physical Contact will be reflected in the school plan.

  • A Hybrid Learning option will be available (read on).


Hybrid Learning

A lot of families are asking about remote learning (what we did March-June) and whether that will be an option for the fall. We have from the first days of our planning anticipated the need to provide remote learning in some form, but there were a number of tricky issues around attendance taking, counting of student days, etc. that had to be worked through by the AOE. On July 15th, the Agency released its guidance on what has come to be called Hybrid Learning (https://education.vermont.gov/sites/aoe/files/documents/edu-hybrid-learning-during-the-2020-2021-school-year_0.pdf). This memorandum does not address how we provide that option, it just affirms that we can provide that option and how we must account for our students who are participating. Hybrid Learning is one area that could look very different from school to school, and the formal guidelines will say more about that.


What Else Will the Plan Tell Us?

There is a great deal of detail that each school must document and report on in its plan, and work is continuing on this as I write. These include specifics related to the SU Common Practices and Procedures outlined above, and possible changes to the master schedule that would affect attendance, along with the more esoteric things like drop-off and pick-up times, redefined bus routes and bus schedules, entry and egress points from the school, student transition rules inside the building, procedural changes to safety drills, breakfast and lunch scheduling, and everything else that makes up the day-to-day operations of the school. Your building leadership is hard at work on these parts of the reopening plan.


Calendar Adjustment

Finally, as we have looked more closely at the feedback we received from families and staff about our crash course in remote teaching and learning this spring, we have decided to bring a bit more order to our practices from a technology perspective, and to come up with new delivery methods so that remote learners can participate at home in core instruction with their classmates who are receiving in-person instruction. Please understand that we believe we can open the schools safely, and that we would prefer to have all of our students in classes with their peers, but for those students who cannot attend daily we are aiming for a more enriching learning environment. We also recognize that we continue to be at the mercy of a virus that knows no physical boundaries, and so we are preparing for the eventuality that one or more of our schools could find itself at Step I - closed for in-person instruction - at some point during the upcoming school year.


In order to be sure that we are ready to provide a more effective remote learning environment, I have asked for, and received, permission from the AOE to convert three of our instructional days into additional teacher professional development days at the start of the school year. I am attaching a revised school calendar to this newsletter (https://bit.ly/3juhfY2), but the changes are summarized as follows:



  • Teachers will report back for in-service on Friday, August 21st as previously planned.
  • In-service will continue through all of the following week, through August 28th. During those additional three days of in-service, teachers will have an opportunity to become more comfortable with the use of remote teaching tools, along with planning for enhanced social-emotional learning that will occur in the first few weeks when students return.
  • The first student day is changed to Monday, August 31st. The entire first week will be an early release schedule, with students dismissed at 1pm. During the first week, students will be focusing on social-emotional activities and spending time with their teachers learning/improving skills that are critical to successful remote learning, should we ever find ourselves having to close the school again as we did this spring. Teachers will use the time between 1pm and the end of their contracted day to reflect on and refine their practices, to resolve their own technology challenges, to discuss what they have learned about the needs of their students that day, etc.


I know that early release days can be difficult for some families, and we worked collaboratively with our Associations to eliminate early release days from our calendar, so I am mindful that this will feel like a step backwards. But having been forced into a remote teaching model in March with no real time to prepare, I believe our teachers and students need to invest the time now to be ready for the next time, if the next time comes to be.


Summary

You can expect completed plans - specific to your school - by the first week of August. We will be offering a remote teaching model for those families who do not wish to send their children back to school. The calendar has been tweaked a bit to provide some additional prep time for our teachers before school begins again.


I hope you and you family are finding ways to enjoy this tropical summer weather and finding ways to rest and recharge.




Mark Tucker, Superintendent

Caledonia Central SU