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ACSD schools prep for in-person classes

MIDDLEURY — While the 2019–2020 academic year ended for most Vermont students just last week, Addison Central School District officials are already busy studying how in-person classes could be reconvened in ACSD buildings this fall.
Gov. Phil Scott ordered public schools shuttered in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This forced districts to quickly develop distance-learning curricula to carry students through the balance of the spring 2020 semester. Scott announced on June 10 that the state’s public schools should be able to open this fall under guidelines that his administration was expected to announce as the Independent went to press on Wednesday.
But Addison Central officials had already committed to an “ACSD Recovery Plan” even before Scott’s announcement.
“This news (from Scott) was relatively expected, and doesn’t change our work on the recovery plan,” ACSD Superintendent Peter Burrows said through an email to the Independent. “With so much unknown going into the fall, we realize that we need to be prepared for changes in direction from the governor and the Vermont Department of Health… ”
The ACSD Recovery Plan will “guide organizational decision making and facilitate clarity and direction throughout the district during our phased reintroduction to school,” according to an explanation that can be found on the acsdvt.org website.
It’s a job that will use the skills of a broad range of the ACSD community, including school administrators, nurses, educators, parents and students. The district has already assigned several of its staff to the job, including Middlebury Union High School RN Kelly Landwehr, ACSD Director of Buildings & Grounds Bruce MacIntire, and Business Manager Brittany Gilman.
A “Recovery Planning Team” will oversee work that will be done by four separate “action teams” that will focus on specific aspects of reopening ACSD schools in Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge. For example, one action team will concentrate on health and safety protocols. Another will immerse itself in “continuity of learning” issues. A third team will focus on policy and operations, and the fourth will plan communications strategy to inform district residents of the eventual school re-entry plan. The district has already sent out two surveys to parents and staff to get ideas on what should be part of a back-to-school scenario.
“The difficulty is, what works for one family might not work for another,” Wells acknowledged. “We definitely have to take multiple situations into consideration and make it as equitable as we possibly can to ensure all students have the highest possible opportunities.”
The recovery team will have a wealth of information to draw from as it does its work. Burrows noted the wide range of school re-entry strategies already being tried throughout the world. For example, some countries are bringing their elementary school students back first, while continuing (for now) online education for secondary students. Other nations are bringing all K–12 students back, but for shorter durations.
Each scenario will carry its own impacts on how students must be taught amid pandemic protocols.
“There are significant implications on all of our operations if we’re practicing six-feet social distancing this fall,” Burrows said. “Then you have to consider transportation and other health and safety things you need to plan for, such as rearranging classrooms.”
The recovery plan’s oversight group met for the first time on Tuesday, June 16. The four action teams will have all met by Thursday, June 18, according to Wells.
Organizers realize the clock is ticking down quickly to the 2020–2021 school year. So this is a task that can’t be granted a time extension — though Wells realizes the recovery plan will have to be tweaked down the line depending on potential new waves of COVID-19.
“My sense, given it’s the middle of June, is that we realistically have six weeks to move an entirely different system forward,” Wells said.
Her hope is to have “at least the solid foundation/framework for phases by beginning of August” so the district can get teachers prepared for what reentry will look like. More advance notice means more professional development for teachers to implement diverse learning plans.
Wells said the team will place a premium on a system that reflects the “social-emotional well-being of our students, families and staff.”
It might take the form of a phase-in of some kids starting, while others staying remote. It might be everybody on board, all at once. It might look different, in terms of configurations, for safety standards. And she stressed, “we also have to have the contingency for if something happens and we’re in session one day and not the next. How do those transitions look and what do we ensure every school has available to them at their homes in case we have to close again?”
Burrows, like his colleagues, is hoping to avoid another pandemic-related closure of schools. He’s concerned about maintaining educational equity for all students during distance learning, as some students aren’t getting the extra supports they would be receiving on campus.
“We are really concerned that the equity gap continues to grow as we’re away from school,” he said.
Plans call for the ACSD to give parents and students a good idea in early August of what school reentry will look like for this fall.
“Even if we’re not 100% there yet, we can at least give them a relatively good guess on where we’re heading,” Wells said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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