BENNINGTON — Plans are ongoing to eventually move students in the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union to Phase III of the school’s reopening as soon as they get an approval from Governor Phil Scott and the Agency of Education.
At the Southwest Vermont Union Elementary School District meeting this week, SVSU superintendent James Culkeen said that originally, the plan to move to Phase III was to start on Jan. 19, but that timeline has been moved back into March at the earliest.
“Educators like things to be lined up,” said assistant superintendent Laura Boudreau. “We’ve been working on the plans to go from Phase II to Phase III since the fall, but there’s so many moving parts.”
The guidance for schools from the state hasn’t changed since Nov. 16. COVID case numbers have risen by a considerable margin in the past couple of months, but the positivity rate in the past 14 days is at 2.7 percent, one of the lowest totals in the nation.
Phase III would have students in-person four days a week, Wednesdays would remain asynchronous for the time being.
“The last three weeks, we’ve been meeting with building principals and directors, building a plan to be respectful of each school,” Boudreau said. “We’ve brought ideas to team meetings, do some problem solving. The collaboration between the administration and the schools has been terrific.”
Previously, Scott and Dan French, the director of the Agency of Education, stated having a goal of having students back in-person five days a week by April 1.
“It’s an admirable goal,” Culkeen said. “But if the six-foot distance rule remains, I don’t know how we can do it in all of our schools.”
Planning is still in the works in the SVSU, but hopes are that the district can open by sometime in March.
“One of the questions that we’ve been asking in these brainstorming sessions is, ‘What will it look like to get all the kids in the building?’ Boudreau said. “We’re still doing screening, temperature checks, even how to get all the cars in the parking lot.”
Boudreau said that some grant money has been used to set up schools to open more fully, even if and with social distancing rules in place, according to the guidance from the state.
“The guidance says that all of the desks have to be facing forward, so we bought some more with some of the extra grant money,” Boudreau said. “Also, with extra grant money, we learned through trial and error that IPads are much more useful for some of our [younger] students than Chromebooks, so we’re trying to be thoughtful in the resources that we’re using.”
In the elementary schools, the six-foot rule has been cut in half to three feet, making it a little easier to be able to get students back in person. But the complication there is with the sixth graders — where some are at the elementary schools and others are already at Mount Anthony Union Middle School.
Chris Murphy, the SVUESD chairman, asked Culkeen if there was any flexibility from the board’s point of view.
“The April 1 date wasn’t an order, it’s a goal,” Culkeen said. “Everything since the shutdown has been a local decision, based on what’s happening on the ground.”