ANWSD makes contingencies for virus in its schools

VERGENNES — Vergennes-area school officials said they will rely on such factors as local COVID-19 infections rates, availability of staffing, and guidance from state officials as they decide in coming weeks when and whether to bring Addison Northwest School District students in for full in-person classes.
Speaking in response to questions from ANWSD board members at their Aug. 24 meeting, Superintendent Sheila Soule said the district administration would act independently of other districts in deciding whether to bring elementary school students back into the classrooms fulltime, or go in the other direction and rely on remote learning. 
“It’s more local decision-making, because it depends on conditions on the ground,” Soule said. 
The questions arose because the district’s hybrid plan — grades K-12 are divided into cohorts that attend school twice a week and learn remotely three days a week — was developed in concert with other districts in the Champlain Valley Superintendents Association, all of which adopted similar approaches. 
But Soule said although the districts would consult, the important criteria would be local incidence of COVID-19 cases and guidance from the Agency of Education (AOE) and Vermont Department of Health (VDH). 
In a case of wanting to return to full-time for grades K-6 she added ANWSD would also have to consider availability of staff due to health concerns and the need to educate the 53 district students who chose remote learning. 
“Our decision … will be in concert with the Department of Health,” she said. 
Soule also on Aug. 21 posted on a similar message, listing the following “Criteria we will be using to evaluate our ability to make the transition” to full in-person learning for Vergennes Union Elementary and Ferrisburgh Central School students: 
•  Sufficient staffing levels to follow health/safety procedures and meet the needs of students.
•  No or low COVID-19 activity in ANWSD’s five communities — Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham.
•  Ability to maintain compliance with VDH/AOE guidance.
•  Ensuring that new routines are efficient, effective, assessed and adjusted to meet the needs.
•  Department of Health guidance and data supports an increase to full in-person instruction.
She added on the website, “We will be using the first four to six weeks of school to learn the routines in our cohort hybrid model with new COVID expectations and procedures. During this time we will be evaluating our ability to phase in a return to full in-person instruction for students in kindergarten through grade six.”
In other business at its Aug. 24 meeting, the board:
•  Discussed a new policy that would regulate electronic communications between employees and students, one that among other things would forbid discussions of sexual matters and drugs, and not allow contact between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Not all were sure of the need for the latter provision, and the issue was referred back to the board’s policy committee for review.
•  Formed a group to study how to improve the experience of, look at the process for selecting, and evaluate the role of the board’s student representatives. Current student representative Reagan Kayhart and board members George Gardner, Bill Clark and Martha DeGraaf, herself a one-time student board representative, volunteered to serve. 
•  Agreed to accept a $1,500 donation from the Vergennes Union High School athletic boosters’ club that will pay for cameras to allow sporting events on the school’s soccer fields to be broadcast. There are already cameras in the VUHS gym to broadcast the school’s basketball games. Especially given the 150-person spectator limit imposed this fall, the cameras will allow more fans to view games. 
•  Agreed it had to continue meeting remotely. Members cited district schools’ ban on all but employees and students from entering the building and the fact that public access to their meetings would not be improved by the change. Board chairman John Stroup also in an interview cited extra work an expense for maintenance workers.
•  Meanwhile, ANWSD teachers were required to report in-person to their buildings for 12 days of professional development that was then delivered online. Neighboring districts did not require teachers to come to their schools to then log on for remote professional development. 
Soule was asked in an email why this was the case, whether it was necessary, and whether it did not create more work for custodians, as it would have for the board.
Soule responded in an email: 
“The buildings are open and our school year/pre-service has started following the state guidelines which indicate it is safe to open schools. Daily cleaning is part of being open. What the guidance also states, however, is that the buildings are to remain closed to the public so as to minimize the risk and the unknowns involved in contact tracing for non-employees. The distinction is employee vs. the public, not open vs. closed. If the state moves us back to step one (buildings closed) — remote work (including for professional development) will again be our model.”

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