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TOWNSHEND — To provide enough time to quarantine after Thanksgiving and the winter holiday, classes in West River Education District schools will be fully remote for two weeks following the breaks.

The decision came in a 6-4 vote during a school board meeting held remotely Monday and affects schools in Jamaica, Newfane and Townshend. The thinking is that some families or staff will be visiting or receiving visitors from “red zones” or areas requiring quarantine upon traveling to Vermont.

“Tough times call for tough choices,” board member Ken McFadden said. “I would rather stand now and say this is what we’re going to do and by doing it we won’t have to say, ‘Little Johnny came down with it and we’ve lost a student.’ I don’t want that to happen. It doesn’t even have to go that far, but god forbid that should happen and we didn’t make this choice.”

Board members were divided on the issue, with some calling for an abundance of caution given the spike in cases nationally and in Vermont and others raising concerns about the impact on students who might struggle with online instruction or families whose work schedules would be affected. The board previously approved having one week of fully remote learning after Thanksgiving but then acknowledged that might not be enough time for a quarantine if needed.

Superintendent Bill Anton suggested the board could wait to make a decision on the second holiday break because state mandates might make it moot or necessary. Board member Emily Long voted against the motion because she said she didn’t want to decide on that break yet.

Board member Howard Ires called the plan for two weeks of remote learning after breaks “a great idea.”

“I think we can’t be proactive enough on this absent the national leadership,” he said.

Board member Keighan Eaker worried about heating costs for reopening school buildings for a short period, about eight days, before closing them again for another break. Board member Lindsay Bertram said she believes school buildings should be open if students can safely attend.

Before the decision, families were expected to let school staff know they traveled and would need to self quarantine. Remote learning could then be arranged.

Long warned board members against thinking they could come up with a plan that would be completely safe. She said decisions should be made with an eye on public health guidelines from the state and what’s best for students.

“Some children are really going to be hurt by long remote learning,” she said.

Board member Dana West said he wishes he could cancel the holidays because “going back and forth is not going to do them well.”

Board member LeeAnn Jillson said she thinks there needs to be some accountability from families on the issue.

“We’re not giving anyone the choice to cheat the system,” McFadden said.

Jamaica Elementary School and NewBrook Elementary have reopened school buildings since the board opted to have air ventilation systems throughout the district meet standards recommended by the state. Townshend Elementary School and Leland & Gray Middle and High School in Townshend will continue with remote learning until the air systems are ready.

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