MONTPELIER – While the state is now preparing for in-person learning to resume in fall, current restrictions on mass gatherings intended to prevent COVID-19’s spread mean traditional graduation ceremonies will likely not be taking place this spring.
Secretary of Education Dan French announced those updates during the Scott administration’s weekly Friday press conference, explaining the restrictions on traditional graduation ceremonies stemmed from wider orders limiting any nonessential gatherings to a maximum of ten people.
“While this limitation is expected to evolve as Vermont continues to respond to COVID-19, the timing of any such changes is not certain,” French said Friday. “For planning purposes, schools should expect that larger group gatherings will not be permitted prior to the end of the school year.”
Instead, the education secretary, reading from guidance issued later that day by the Vermont Agency of Education, encouraged schools “to plan creatively with their communities for opportunities to celebrate milestones and graduations in ways that are safe and supportive of students and their achievements.”
“It is a disappointment to the students, certainly,” French said. “It’s also a disappointment for communities – so many of our graduations are community-wide celebrations.”
In the meantime, according to French, while schools would remain closed to in-person learning for the remainder of the school year, school districts in Vermont were being advised to prepare for the resumption of in-person schooling in fall.
“It’s our hope and expectation that we will be able to return to in-person instruction in the fall, but obviously that decision would be informed by public health information as we get closer,” French said. “But we’re going to start planning along those lines now.”
Schools, according to French, will also be “maintaining and improving our ability to do remote learning, which we see as a necessary contingency in case, at some point, we need to close down schools.”
School facilities could be opened even sooner, according to new guidance from the Agency of Education, with buildings possibly being opened this summer for student support services, professional development and even community programming like summer camps.
Schools have been closed to in-person learning in Vermont since March, when Gov. Phil Scott ordered their closure in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, an easily transmitted respiratory disease that, in some cases, can result in a life-threatening illness.
As of Friday afternoon, 919 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Vermont and 53 deaths in Vermont had been attributed to the disease.
Under state orders, schools have been operating remotely, save for meals services and child care services schools were ordered to continue.
While those child care mandates were later walked back by the Scott administration, the governor later extended the ordered closure of schools to the end of the current academic year, a step most states and school districts in the U.S. have taken due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A copy of the Agency of Education’s latest guidance can be found at https://bit.ly/3dr6kuz.