Windham Southwest board OKs scope of reopening plan

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WILMINGTON — In the face of a pandemic, school administrators were given authority to plan for two school reopening options.

At a meeting held via video conference Thursday, the Windham Southwest Supervisory Union Super Board voted in support of exploring a model where classes would be held in school buildings every weekday except Wednesday when remote learning would occur, and a fully remote option.

"We're only at step one," Superintendent Barbara Anne Komons-Montroll said. "We don't have all the answers quite yet."

She said students who have to quarantine would be in remote classes differing from those who choose semester-long remote classes before the beginning of the school year. Wednesdays are looked at as a way to practice in case schools have to move to all remote learning like they did when the governor declared a state of emergency earlier this year.

Windham Southwest — made up of Halifax Elementary School, Readsboro Central School, Stamford Elementary School, Twin Valley Elementary School in Wilmington and Twin Valley Middle High School in Whitingham — doesn't have a confirmed start date yet. The governor is giving school districts until Sept. 8 to start, an extra week or two to begin classes.

Komons-Montroll called safety for students and staff "the first priority," and social emotional well-being "essential."

"Equity of access must be front of center," she said. "And there's nothing like a crisis, like a pandemic, to point out where we need to focus more on equity."

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In-person instruction is preferred, she said, but noted the need to practice readiness for remote learning as new developments come quickly. She said state agencies are informing all decision making.

About 160 parents indicated they intend to send their children to in-person classes and 98 do not, according to an initial survey. The results showed 180 parents were interested in hearing about a full-time remote option and 78 were not.

The number of responses did not account for every student. The goal is to have more participation in the next survey about preferences and transportation needs, Komons-Montroll said.

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School officials are exploring how to prepare students to wear face coverings and allow outdoor breaks from masks.

"There's a lot of thoughts and ideas going into this," Komons-Montroll said. "We care about our kids and we know this can be challenging."

She said the Vermont Agency of Education and health experts are advocating for in-person instruction out of concern for students' learning, health and social emotional needs.

"We can do that because we can meet all the requirements in the AOE guidelines," she said. "After studying our school buildings and looking at sizes of our classes, of the cohorts, we're able to have all of our students in our buildings and we can keep 6 feet, which there is talk of changing that a bit."

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She said the agency is recommending families transport their children to school when possible.

Board member Jessica Tatro, who cast the lone dissenting vote on preparing the two models and also serves on the Stamford School Board, questioned the need for having remote learning every Wednesday.

"If there's going to be time where we have to go remote for periods of time, I feel there's a lot of 'practice,'" she said. "It just seems that's too much non-contact time."

Komons-Montroll said teachers need time to develop techniques and make remote learning a routine.

"It must be more robust," she said. "It can't be what the spring looked like."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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