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Windham Northeast Supervisory Union drops bus screening of students

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BELLOWS FALLS — Schools in the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union have had to change their health protocols involving students who ride the bus — screening them when they get to school instead of on the bus, thus creating a potential exposure problem if a student turns up sick.

The supervisory union is critically short of staff to act as bus monitors, said Superintendent Christopher Pratt, who said the district was advertising constantly for the positions, with only one response.

Meanwhile, the 36 paraprofessionals laid off in June have all been offered jobs within the district, with few takers.

Andrew Haas, director of special education, told the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union board Wednesday evening that some of the former paraprofessionals have begged off because of health concerns, but that many of the aides already have new jobs, including teaching positions.

Haas said he personally called all the aides who were laid off in hopes they would help to fill positions required by the district's response to the coronavirus pandemic. These positions include bus monitors or health aides.

Pratt said while the state and the supervisory union are urging parents to drive their children to school, there are about a dozen buses running routes, serving about 150 students. He said some parents are forced to use the buses out of necessity, not by choice.

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All students who ride buses are checked for symptoms of COVID-19, with temperature checks and other health screenings, once they arrive at school, rather than when they get on the bus — the initial recommendation from the Agency of Education, which Pratt said hasn't been possible.

Westminster School Director Cheryl Charles asked about staffing issues, and Pratt said he believed all positions were filled with the exception of one at Bellows Falls Union High School. Charles also asked about the paraprofessionals.

David M. Clark of Westminster, chairman of the supervisory union board, said under the collective bargaining agreement, the supervisory district has the option of having its paraprofessionals do bus duty. So far, he said, the district hasn't exercised that option.

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He said that provision was written into their contract more than a year ago, because of behavioral problems on the buses.

The board, which includes school directors from Rockingham, Westminster, Grafton and Athens, as well as the Bellows Falls Union High School, also heard from the principals of all the schools about the opening days of the school year. School opened Tuesday.

The principals unanimously reported that the opening of school went well, with students "psyched" to be back at school, with their friends and teachers, and in the school buildings. Gov. Phil Scott closed schools statewide on March 16.

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With just half of the total school population in the school building at any one time to allow for social distancing, class sizes are small. Under the hybrid model adopted by the supervisory union and the individual school boards, students are divided alphabetically by last name, with half going to in-person classes on Monday and Tuesday, and the other half on Thursday and Friday. On Wednesdays, all students engage in remote learning, and students have an additional two days of remote learning when their cohort is not at the school.

Several Rockingham school directors, who at one time voted to half five-day-a-week in-person teaching, pushed Pratt for reopening the Rockingham elementary schools and Bellows Falls Middle School once the six-week trial period expires.

Rockingham Director Jason Terry pushed Pratt about starting the planning process to accommodate 100 percent of the students, five days a week, but Pratt was non-committal, noting the district had only just completed the second day of classes.

Haas, the special education director, said that he and his staff were in the process of revising 300 individual education plans for special ed students.

The school board had a lengthy discussion about the intersection of the Vermont Open Meeting Law and the chat function on Zoom, the virtual online video conferencing program the school boards have used for their public meetings since the pandemic struck. But they tabled making a decision until a future meeting.

Contact Susan Smallheer at


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