Vermont-NEA says state’s reopening plans barely make the grade

Local News

Vermont’s largest teachers union doesn’t think much of the state’s overall readiness to re-open schools. giving officials a “D+” gradely for health and safety measures that vary widely across the state.

The state chapter of the NEA says not all schools are equipped with proper protocols, personal protection equipment or enough full-time nurses. Vermont-NEA President Don Tinney said in a statement that all school districts should have the means to provide for its students and staff this fall.

“To absolutely no one’s surprise, this district-by-district approach leaves Vermont’s schools all over the map,” Tinney said. “Some districts are more prepared than others; some districts have robust safety protocols, while others don’t have adequate supplies of personal protection equipment. No student, parent, or school employee should have to put their safety at risk.”

Darren Allen, Vermont-NEA communications director, said Allen educators on the ground assessed their school’s safety status, and evaluated areas such as testing, staffing, ventilation, guidance and remote learning plans.

“For instance, if you look at ventilation, one of the questions was ‘Do you work in a room with an operating window?’ Two-thirds of our members said no,” said Allen.

Vermont received an “F” for for efforts to inspect and remediate of heating, ventilation, air conditioning systems. The grade also considered whether windows in all classrooms and work areas were functioning. No other areas of the NEA’s evaluation of the state’s overall plan received higher than a “C.”

Sophia Hall, president of the Vermont State School Nurses Association, said the shortage of nurses is one reason Vermont received a “D” for staffing. “We have lots of schools that do not have a school nurse at all,” Hall said, “and that’s scary for everybody,” said Hall.

In fact, only 55% of schools in the state have full-time nurses.

Leanne Harple is an English teacher in the Northeast Kingdom who doesn’t agree with some of the protocols in her district, namely at Craftsbury Academy.

“An isolation area for kids who show symptoms of COVID is being constructed in the same room as the school’s preparation station,” Harple says with only a sheet to separate sick students from cafeteria workers.

Allen says this could have been prevented with a state-wide approach in place, but he believes the state has room to improve. The Vermont-NEA doesn’t think schools should further delay the start date, but extending it by two weeks was the right call.

“It’s a report card. and a report card gives you a chance to do better, but we all know a state-wide for safety is crucial,” said Allen.

He says not all districts are in trouble but the ones in need of extra support have an effect on the state average.

In the meantime, they plan to implore the legislature to provide adequate funding at the state and federal level to ensure the safety of all Vermont students, teachers, and families.

Here are the areas evaluated and the NEA’s grades:

Health and Safety — C+: A full time nurse in every building; adequate PPE and social distancing requirements; bathrooms equipped with warm water, soap and sanitizers; hand sanitizer in every classroom.

Testing and Tracking — C: Daily health checks for students and staff; coordination between public health officials and administrators on testing and tracking regimens.

Adequate Staffing — D: Sufficient custodial staff in each building to conduct appropriate daily deep cleaning; sufficient bus drivers and bus attendants to implement safety procedures; sufficient number of substitutes to handle COVID-related staffing shortages.

Ventilation — F: Inspection and remediation of heating, ventilation, air conditioning systems; operational windows in all classrooms and work areas.

Contingency Plans — D+: Procedures to close buildings or districts to contain outbreaks; robust remote learning plans if schools must close again to in-person instruction; plans for the safe isolation of those who become ill or test positive for COVID-19.

Efficacy of Statewide Guidance — C: Agency of Education is supportive on the local level for reopening during the pandemic; consistency of physical distancing guidance; appointment of a school nurse as COVID-19 coordinator; creation of a work group with multiple educators.

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