BELLOWS FALLS — The Rockingham School Board endorsed a plan Monday night that will expand in-person learning for students starting Oct. 19.
The three schools, Central Elementary in Bellows Falls, Saxtons River Elementary School, and Bellows Falls Middle School, won’t follow identical schedules for its students, and the older students at the middle school won’t be coming back to four days of classroom instruction until the state loosens social distancing rules.
Central Elementary Principal Kerry Kennedy said she is still waiting for new classroom desks to replace tables before four-day-a-week classes can resume for all the elementary students.
All schools will eventually have remote learning on Wednesdays, but will have in-person classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Bellows Falls Middle School Principal Karen Bukowski said she didn’t have enough space in classrooms to restore four-day, in-person classes for the higher students, since the state still requires 6 feet between students.
The state recently reduced that requirement to three feet for the younger classes.
The principals said they have worked with their school staff, and the district’s various building task forces to come up with the reopening plan.
Rockingham schools are currently on a hybrid schedule, with the student body divided into two cohorts, with each cohort having in-person school two days a week.
Kennedy, who is in her first year as Central principal, said the school needs another Grade 3 teacher due to the class size, but that so far she has been unable to hire anyone.
She said she has contacted Keene State College, Castleton University and the University of Vermont, in addition to more traditional sources, to find a new teacher.
Rockingham School Director Jason Terry joked that fellow director Priscilla Lambert should return to the classroom, but Lambert said she is recovering from a medical issue and couldn’t. But she said she has been thinking of volunteering.
Terry also questioned what Bukowski has done to find more space for the middle school so the students could be back in a classroom under social distancing requirements.
Lambert suggested that Bukowski check out the United Church, which is across School Street from the middle school. But Bukowski said she considered that a conflict because of separation of church and state.
She also said a suggestion to bring in a trailer as an extra classroom would eliminate the green space the school uses for physical education.
Any non-school space raises issues of disinfection and liability, she said.
Since schools were given the go ahead by the Scott administration to reopen, the Rockingham School Board has been pushing Superintendent Christopher Pratt and the teachers to re-establish fulltime teaching in the classroom, saying students, particularly the youngest students, need to be back in the classroom.
School administrators and teachers have pushed back, saying safety is the most important consideration.
On Monday night, Bukowski said staffing is looming large as a potential problem, as she has had difficulty finding substitutes when teachers call in sick or have to quarantine.
She said some teachers traveled out of state for a family wedding and a funeral to a “red” county, and thus were required to quarantine and have a test before they returned to teaching.
Terry suggested that now is maybe the time for teachers to forgo out-of-state travel, which prompted a retort from Bukowski that she would never ask her staff not to put their families first.
“I would never tell anybody they can’t put their family first,” she told Terry, who said that his family “hasn’t gone anywhere” since the pandemic was declared.
But Terry said people are making all kinds of sacrifices because of the coronavirus pandemic. “They are needed both places,” said Chairman George Smith, who said that recreational travel by the staff “should be frowned upon.”
The board also appointed Megan Applegate to be the fifth school board member, replacing Rick Holloway who resigned in August.
Contact Susan Smallheer at firstname.lastname@example.org.