BRATTLEBORO — In a school year set to return fully to in-person instruction, COVID-19 cases are causing classroom shutdowns and more remote learning.
At the Windham Southeast School District Board meeting held Tuesday in person and via Zoom, interim Superintendent Mark Speno said it was “great” seeing school communities back together, but then schools immediately had to begin contact tracing in response to positive test results for the virus. He said school officials spent “two weekends very much dedicated to responding to COVID” cases at Green Street School in Brattleboro, Putney Central School and Vernon Elementary School.
“But I think in all three scenarios, we did a really good job identifying who needs to stay remote and who gets to stay in the building,” he said. “The goal is to keep our schools open.”
Board Chairman David Schoales said school officials hadn’t anticipated the delta variant, which is transmitted more easily than other strains of the virus. Last week, four Green Street School classrooms were closed after a positive test result came back.
Putney and Vernon each had one positive COVID-19 case and a presumed positive case, Speno said Wednesday.
“One grade level at each school has shifted to quarantine with remote support,” he said.
Vernon Elementary Principal Mary Ross said she’s “so inspired by the response by students, staff and families.”
“We hoped we wouldn’t see this day with all of the mitigation strategies we have put into place to keep our community as safe as possible,” she said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, we knew it was likely and will continue to be a possibility for some time.”
Ross said the school implemented plans with input from school nurse Christine Kierstead, the Vermont Department of Health, the school’s COVID coordinator, and Speno.
“Vernon’s parents and families have been understanding and flexible with quick changes, and I’m so grateful to be in this community,” Ross said. “Every day our school staff is working so very hard to meet the needs of all children and create opportunities for joyful and rigorous learning. They are tired, and I couldn’t be more impressed by their hard work.”
Putney Central Principal Herve Pelletier couldn’t be immediately reached Wednesday.
A total of 159 cases have been reported in K-12 schools in Vermont by the Department of Health as of Sunday, including one at Bellows Falls Middle School, two at Flood Brook School in Londonderry, two at Green Street School in Brattleboro, one at Manchester Elementary/Middle School, one at Mount Anthony Union Middle School in Bennington, two at Shaftsbury Elementary School and three at the Village School of North Bennington. Putney and Vernon hadn’t been included on the list at the time.
Tables showing cases in schools will be updated Tuesdays with data through the previous Sunday, the department said.
“New information is learned through contact tracing and may change the counts as we learn more,” the department said.
Currently, the supervisory union is in its third week of school. Speno said students who need to work remotely because of quarantining are considered absent.
“They have to be because they’re not physically in the building; however, we still want to be engaged with these kids and families while they are quarantining,” he said.
Absences will be differentiated to clarify whether they are related to COVID, he said.
Board member Tim Maciel has been asking for the percentage of school staff vaccinated against the virus. At the time of Tuesday’s meeting, forms had been sent to staff and students.
“We’re gathering that information now,” Speno said.