MAUSD maps out its back-to-school plan

Every routine has been turned upside down and needs to be rethought. For example, how to sit in a circle outside or how to manage mask wearing.
— MAUSD special educator Elizabeth Maher

BRISTOL — School starts next week in the Mount Abraham Unified School District, as elsewhere in Vermont, and by now students and families know it’s going to be different from anything anyone’s ever seen before.
Then it will change, and change again.
Which is why it’s hard for educators to respond to questions like “What will my child’s school day look like?” At this time, in the middle of a deadly global pandemic, the answer is going to be some version of “It depends.”
But “It depends” does not mean “I don’t know,” MAUSD officials say. Far from it.
For the past several months, MAUSD officials have worked to develop a plan for making some in-person learning possible this fall. The current version of that plan was released on Aug. 27 and can be found on the MAUSD website:
At the same time, MAUSD has developed a framework for understanding and addressing countless questions and challenges.
The plan will almost certainly change. The framework will not.
That framework is based on three priorities:
1. physical health and safety.
2. social, emotional and mental health.
3. continuity of learning, or academics.
Number one is the most important. Any decision about academics must first satisfy public health and safety requirements.
“The whole reason we’re able to open schools this fall is number one,” MAUSD Superintendent Patrick Reen told the Independent. “We need to get that right the first time. Because if we see spikes (in COVID-19 cases) and have to step back and close down — I don’t know if we can afford that, financially, mentally or emotionally.”
Like its neighboring school districts, MAUSD will start school on Sept. 8 with a hybrid approach. Students will attend school two days a week (half the students on Monday/Tuesday and the other half Thursday/Friday) and learn remotely the other three.
Students also have the option of fully remote learning. So far 123 MAUSD students have chosen that option.
Students may change from hybrid to fully remote learning or vice versa, but MAUSD officials ask that they be given some notice, so they can prepare.
If public health conditions worsen, the district may transition all students to fully remote learning.
The decision to close a school because of COVID-19 rests with Superintendent Reen, in consultation with state officials.

In-person learning days will begin with a daily health screening at home, for both students and staff. Anyone who does not pass the screening should stay home.
Families should not try to reduce children’s fevers with medication and then send them to school. This is extremely important.
“This puts too many people at risk, especially in a global pandemic,” Reen said during an Aug. 18 MAUSD town hall meeting conducted via Zoom.
Buses will be operating at full capacity but with as much physical distancing as possible. Students will have assigned seats.
School buildings will have multiple assigned entrances to prevent bottlenecks, and everyone will have their temperature taken upon arrival.
Those will fevers of 100.4 or above, or who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 may not attend school.

For detailed information about health and safety requirements, visit the district’s website at
•  Facial coverings are required — for everyone. Neck gators don’t count. This is a state requirement. Obtaining a medical exception to this rule will require a thorough and detailed process involving the student’s physician, school officials and the student’s family. Masks may be removed for eating, drinking and during outdoor physically distanced activities.
•  Classroom seating has been adapted to accommodate physical distancing. The borrowing and sharing of items will be restricted.
•  Students and staff must practice frequent and proper hand washing. Hand sanitizer will be placed throughout the buildings. Schools will be cleaned and sanitized at least twice a day, and staff will be required to clean their spaces during the school day.
•  Playground equipment that can be cleaned and disinfected twice a day will be available.
•  Any student or employee who begins to exhibit COVID-19 symptoms at school must report to the school nurse immediately. Each school has a designated isolation room, where individuals can be assessed.
•  If someone tests positive for COVID-19 they must stay home, and the Vermont Department of Health will be notified and will provide guidance. For information about quarantine and other health requirements, families should consult the MAUSD reopening guide, which was developed according to Vermont Department of Health and Vermont Agency of Education guidelines.

“Understanding that there are many unknowns right now, our goal is to provide consistent and predictable (social and emotional learning) structures for our work of teaching and learning this year,” MAUSD Social and Emotional Learning Coordinator Rae Donovan told the Independent.
•  School counselors will continue with their yearly school guidance for students and families.
•  Students will be screened multiple times throughout the year to make sure they’re receiving the support they need.
•  Every student will have an MAUSD employee check in with them on a daily basis, even if they are learning remotely.
•  Staff will receive pre-service training on how to support student social, emotional and mental health needs.

The Expanded Learning Program will be operating childcare in all five elementary schools, and families can choose from three options. 
•  Full-day programming is offered from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. 
•  School-day programming is available from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. 
•  Afterschool programming will run from 3 p.m. to  5:30 p.m.

MAUSD will be offering a hybrid model of education that involves both in-person and remote learning. 
Students will be assigned to one of two groups for attending in-person classes two days a week and learning virtually three days a week. Group A will learn in-person Mondays and Tuesdays and remotely the rest of the week. Group B will learn in-person Thursdays and Fridays and remotely the rest of the week.
Wednesdays are reserved for student check-in, teacher preparation and collaboration, cleaning and disinfecting, and professional development — in addition to remote learning.
One of the things that makes this model different from last spring is the in-person learning, which will not only offer direct instruction but will also help students be better prepared to engage in remote learning the rest of the week, Reen said:
“Part of in-person learning will involve setting up the three days of remote learning, and part of remote learning will involve building on skills for the next in-person day.”
Fully remote elementary school students will receive support from MAUSD employees, while older students may receive some of their instruction through the Vermont Virtual Learning Collaborative or Virtual High School. More information about this will be available from officials at Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School.

Holding all of this together are the teachers.
MAUSD special educator and teacher association Co-president Elizabeth Maher provided the perspectives of several district teachers.
“It feels so good to be in my classroom again,” said one.
The most challenging part is that everything keeps changing, Maher said. As soon as educators come up with a plan, information changes.
Teachers are flexible, she explained, but they also like structure, and they need to plan and prep.
“We know how to do our job, but every routine has been turned upside down and needs to be rethought,” one teacher told Maher. “For example, how to sit in a circle outside or how to manage mask wearing.”
Teachers set high expectations for themselves, Maher said. And there are concerns not only about meeting the needs of students in classrooms, but also those of students who are fully remote.
The beginning of the school year is always stressful, another teacher told Maher. But this year, in addition to planning for the things they’ve thought of, they have to be able to respond to things they haven’t thought of.

Many back-to-school questions have focused on what the school district plans to do for the community’s children, but there is also something community members can do: be substitute teachers.
The first time you visit the MAUSD website, you may just get a pop-up window announcing the district’s need for substitutes this year.
Want to be of service to your community’s children? Sign up to be a sub.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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