In an open letter to parents, teachers and staff in the Harwood Unified Union School District, Superintendent Brigid Nease said the state’s failure to develop a comprehensive plan for reopening schools this fall will have “permanent, unrecoverable repercussions for our students, school systems, and community.”
Nease’s letter, which has been distributed widely across Vermont’s education community, highlights numerous challenges local districts will face in the absence of a statewide solution. As it is, Nease wrote, districts have received little assistance beyond health and safety guidelines, resulting in reopening plans that are “all over the map, vastly different from each other.”
“Under the guise of local control and the need to respond flexibly to the differences in each district, leaders were told by state officials to basically go figure it out,” Nease wrote.
Nease wrote that school employees are “scared to death they will get sick (or worse), bring the virus home to loved ones, have a student in their care become ill, or experience the death of a coworker.”
That’s contributed to a rush of resignations and requests for leaves of absence, she says. But the larger issue, she wrote, is the wide range of “homegrown reopening schedules.” That, Nease says, will make it harder for schools to assure they have enough staff and for school employees to arrange child care for their own children.
“This is a significant statewide problem in need of a significant statewide solution made by those that have the authority to do so, at the top of the food chain, not individual community administrators and local school boards,” she wrote.
Other educators across Vermont agree. Patrick Gordon is a learning specialist with the Norwich School District, whose wife works in a differnt district, with a different plan for reopening. Gordon said the state’s lack of a plan “is creating chaos at the local and regional levels.”
“When a superintendent of a large district comes out and says that we should be concerned. We can’t deny it,” he said, adding that he and his wife have a one-year-old son who attends daycare in a separate school district.
“We are going to have to make some difficult decisions to be able to balance our family’s needs with our needs as professionals as educators,” he said.
Gordon said the issues will impact staffing at schools across the state.
“Will there be substitute teachers to come in? I don’t have the answers to that, but the biggest thing is if we don’t have something at the state level, how can we ensure that what my wife and I are experiencing which is just 30 minutes apart to be able to function as a family unit, but also be professionals in our field,” said Gordon.