Gov. Phil Scott and state health and education officials say the level of COVID-19 cases in Vermont is low enough that schools can safely resume in-person instruction this fall.
But, during a Tuesday news conference, he stopped short of issuing more concrete guidance on how to do it, as some have urged. Instead, , Scott said he would issue an order allowing schools to open Sept. 8, a week later than usual, to give local districts more time to prepare.
Scott says the recommendations could change if there is a resurgence of the virus. He also said local school districts can choose different reopening models — a decision that has already led to some criticism from educators.
Many Vermont schools are already preparing to reopen this fall with both in-school and remote instruction. But Brigid Nease, superintendent of Harwood Unified Union School District, said in an open letter relrased last week that the state’s failure to issue comprehensive plans for reopening schools will have “permanent, unrecoverable repercussions for our students, school systems, and community.”
“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.
The letter has been distributed widely across Vermont’s education community, highlighting the challenges local districts will face in the absence of a statewide solution. Nease said 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.”
Meanwhile, local pediatricians are calling on districts to prioritize full-time, in-person learning at the elementary level, as well as for students with special needs.
In a statement issued Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics Vermont Chapter (AAPVT) believes the health risks of reopening schools need to be weighed with the developmental risks of limiting in-person classes.
“We know this early education period for brain development is so key, and that families are really supported by the schools in so many ways beyond education,” said Dr. Jill Rinehart, an attending physician at the University of Vermont Medical Center and director of the Pediatric Residency program. “That’s the hole that’s left when we think about keeping kids out of school.”