By Curt Peterson
Windsor Central Unified Union School District (WCUUSD) interim superintendent Sherry Sousa’s presentation regarding reopening the district’s campuses drew a crowd to the Zoom meeting July 21.
“It was surreal to be sitting in my kitchen, talking to my laptop and knowing more than 76 people were listening,” Sousa told the Mountain Times.
Sousa has been the acting superintendent since the end of June when her predecessor left for another position out of state. A committee is currently seeking candidates to fulfil the role and Sousa is a contender.
The state Agency of Education issued “Strong and Healthy Start Guidelines” on June 17 for reopening schools. The district has been working to design reopening strategies suited to the district’s resources and state guidelines.
“During the six weeks from the end of the school year to our meeting on July 15, the leadership team reviewed relevant articles and resources from Vermont, across the country, and internationally,” Sousa said.
The team includes campus principals, school board members, district directors of instructional technology, finance, instructional support services, and Sousa.
Their basic strategy is built on a model of “structures and routines that could define a reopening plan and provide an organizational frame for the hundreds of smaller curricular, programmatic, and logistical decisions what will need to be made next year,” Sousa said.
The agencies of Education and Health will determine whether schools remain open – any change in coronavirus status could shift the district back to entirely remote learning.
Nationally, a poll, released Thursday, July 23, by theKaiser Family Foundation found that in a diverse sample of 377 parents, 63% said it is better to open schools later to minimize coronavirus infection risk. A poll by ParentsTogether which surveyed more than 1,200 parents about reopening schools and child care needs and found similar results with 59% of respondents agreeing that “schools should remain closed until they are certain there is no health risk, even if it means students fall farther behind.” Additionally, in that poll, 45% of parents said they were “not planning” or were “somewhat unlikely” to send their children back to school even if it opened, while another 22% were unsure.
Locally, in a survey distributed by WCUUSD 10-15% percent of parents said they would not send their kids back to in-person school.
To accommodate those families. WCUUSD is allowing families to choose all-remote learning. Parents are ask to make a choice by trimester for elementary school and by semester for middle school/high school, Sousa said.
WCUUSD hopes to have a hybrid system in place for reopening, with students attending classes some days, and learning remotely on others.
Only 22% of parents want bus transportation, according to the local survey. A bus monitor will greet students, ask three screening questions and take their temperatures before they board the bus. Any child with a fever or who wrongly answers a screening question will not be allowed on the bus.
The procedure will reoccur at campus for both bus and private car arrivals.
WCUUSD has appointed the Middle/High School nurse, Katie Burke, as designated Covid-19 coordinator. Her responsibility will be to “establish, review and implement health and safety protocols” for the reopening, Sousa said.
Students in “cohort” groups will stay together, not interacting with others.
The school day will begin 45 minutes later — the bus company is negotiating to accommodate the change.
There will be no after-school programs.
Most students will be in school two days a week, and learn remotely three days. Kindergarten through second grade will attend school four days a week – Wednesdays left for staff deep-cleaning and teacher collaboration. Third grade would be on the four-day schedule in Barnard and Reading, as they are combined with second grade.
Middle and high school classes will be on a “block schedule.”
Kids needing educational intervention to avoid falling behind may get additional school days. Younger children of “essential workers and schoolteachers in the district” may attend classes five days per week to accommodate parents’ schedules.
The focus will be on mathematics and literacy. Primary grades will receive music, art and Spanish in school, and other elementary grades will learn them remotely. The goal is to eliminate crowding.
Parents worry how well kids did with remote learning this spring. Sousa said teachers will be proactive with unengaged kids.
“We’re much more prepared than we were last year,” she said.
Day care may be provided by “community partners” – volunteers who will provide supervision for kids obeying the same health and safety requirements in force at school.
“We’re all in this together,” Sousa said, “and we look to parents to help with the absolute needs.”
Some are concerned about younger students’ willingness to maintain distancing. Sousa said experience with the “Summer Soak” program indicates the kids will be very cooperative.
Board co-chair Pam Fraser (Barnard) asked, “What happens if a student becomes ill during the school day?”
Sousa said protocols are in place. The Covid-19 coordinator will put the ill child in an isolation room until someone can pick them up.
Board member Jennifer Iannantuoni (Killington) asked why The Prosper Valley School wasn’t part of the plan.
Joe Rigoli said three companies are bidding to install the HVAC system required, but because of the virus it will take 10 weeks to get the equipment. The school won’t be ready, at least for the start fall classes.
Intra-district elementary school choice is open until Aug. 1, according to the Collaboration Team’s proposed reopening plan.
“If families wish to have their third grader in a four day a week in school choice, they may request to enroll in
Barnard Academy or Reading Elementary School for the year,” the plan stated.