In mid-July the state of Vermont issued the guidance our school boards were to follow as they cobbled together plans to start the 2020-2021 school year. The guidance was not prescriptive; like the flippers on a pin ball machine, it was meant to keep things centered, with no one going off kilter. It was an invitation for school boards to model their own needs into their own plan. That “flexibility” is creating more questions than answers.

In a letter to her supervisory union, Hardwood Unified Union School District Brigid Nease described her district’s circumstances as all consuming. She couldn’t tell her teachers, or her district’s parents and their children what school in the fall would look like. She warned that “…we will fail in ways that may have permanent, unrecoverable repercussions for our students, school systems and community.”

Why? Because the state allowed each school district to do its own thing when “this is a very significant statewide problem and it requires a significant statewide solution.” Ms. Nease went on to describe how differences between school districts can make schedules all but unusable. All it takes is a husband and wife teaching duo [more common than you’d think] who are in different districts with kids in each. Doesn’t work.

But aside from teachers being in different districts there’s this basic question: districts are to offer in-person schooling several days a week and remote learning on the others. They will also offer remote learning to those who refuse to come to school. How does a teacher teach all day and then teach again to those wanting remote learning? How do teachers teach in person, then remotely, and then teach their own children?

No one knows how that might work. Or if it could.

But, as Ms. Nease brings up, the elephant in the room is one of manpower. There isn’t a superintendent in Vermont who could tell you for sure how many teachers will show up for work in September, if their in-school presence is required. We don’t even know how many students will show up [local surveys indicate that just short of 40 percent of those polled in the Maple Run school district say they prefer remote learning and not in-person instruction.]

What we do know, and can logically assume, is that there is enormous fear on the part of our teachers; students may not transmit the coronavirus at the same level as adults, or get as sick, but teachers [adults] do. How many teachers will show up, how many will take various forms of leave?

There is also the obvious question of child care. When schools teach remotely, who cares for the children when the parents are at work [assuming things return to a sense of quasi-normalcy at the workplace.]? And the childcare for teachers?

If we don’t know how many students will return to school, and if we don’t know how many teachers will be available, and if we don’t now how teachers can be in two places at the same time, then it seems Ms. Nease has a point. Several, in fact. This is something that needs stronger direction from Gov. Phil Scott. We have a month.

by Emerson Lynn

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