September 23, 2020
Dear Parents/Guardians, Staff, and Community Members,
Governor Scott announced at his September 22 press conference, (with the Secretary of Education Dan French making the official statement) that all Vermont schools would transition from the Step II hybrid model of instruction to Step III, modified in-person instruction effective September 26. I want you to know that we are in the midst of thorough conversations with our administrators regarding what a transition to Step III would look like for our District. No firm decisions have been made yet on a timeline.
We are currently working to prioritize bringing back our youngest learners first, for both pedagogical and transmission risk reasons, with the most likely scenario involving bringing back PreK-2, (combined cohorts 4 days per week, with Wednesdays remaining remote learning days) followed two weeks later by grades 3-5. We are not actively discussing bringing middle and high school students to Step III learning at this time.
We have heard from the Governor and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine about the importance of in-person instruction at the lower grades. We have also heard from a number of elementary school parents/guardians about issues they have been experiencing in the hybrid model from the financial strain of unexpected childcare expenses to juggling working from home while teaching their child(ren) on remote learning days. All of this information will factor into our careful and thoughtful decision-making process going forward.
Staff and Student Safety Concerns Remain
Secretary French has often noted that decisions around reopening procedures need to be made on a case by case basis. In South Burlington, we are in the unique position of having rising enrollment and full buildings as many of our neighboring districts see declines in their student population and ample additional space in their schools.
This is cause for concern given language in the Step III guidance related to the 3-6 ft physical distancing requirements which read, “To the extent possible, continue to space out seating and bedding (head-to-toe positioning), 3 to 6 feet is acceptable in younger students (PreK through Grade 5).” For grades 6-12, physical distancing guidance remains at 6 feet.
For communal spaces, the Step III guidance is as follows: “If possible, keep communal use spaces, such as cafeterias and gymnasiums, closed. However, these spaces may be used for their intended purposes in smaller groups, staggering use, and cleaning and disinfecting between uses.”
We will be watching for guidance on the 3-6 ft distancing language, following the Vermont dashboards and weekly summaries, regional trends, the Governor’s press conferences, and of course, feedback from our staff, parents/guardians, and community members.
High School Sports and Co-Curriculars
The Governor’s announcement on Tuesday, September 22 that we are moving to Step III on Saturday, September 26 makes it allowable for us to operate a modified fall sports program and to continue to offer other extracurricular activities including student clubs and after school visual arts programming. Therefore, SBHS interscholastic competitions will commence on Saturday, September 26 and FHTMS competitions will begin as soon as possible thereafter. More information from our High School Principal Pat Burke and Director of Student Activities Mike Jabour to come.
We will continue to track events closely, follow CDC recommendations, and keep in place procedures that protect our South Burlington community. More details to follow Friday as I continue to meet with our administrators.