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SVSU cancels sporting events, afterschool programs for 2 weeks

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BENNINGTON — The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union announced Friday that it will cancel all athletic events, practices, field trips and afterschool programs for two weeks, beginning Monday, to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

For the time being, schools will remain open, Superintendent Jim Culkeen announced. That decision was made in consultation with the Vermont Department of Public Health and the Vermont Department of Education, he said.

As of Monday, all field trips and large gatherings will be cancelled until further notice. School buildings will be open only to students and school personnel. Community members and the general public will not be allowed to enter school buildings.

Parents and guardians will not be allowed to enter any school for morning drop-off, and those arriving for afternoon pick-up will have to wait outside, Culkeen said.

The use of school facilities by community organizations will not be allowed until further notice, he said. Some small group meetings, such as those for Individualized Education Programs, will still be allowed to continue, with all participants asked COVID-19 screening questions. Those who are sick will be able to participate remotely.

"These restrictions are being put in place to protect our primary mission, the education of our students,"Culkeen said in the statement. "By limiting outside access to our buildings it is our hope to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This situation is ever-changing and I will continue to update you as it unfolds."

The superintendent said he is working with the Vermont Department of Public Health and the Vermont Department of Education to both mitigate potential risks to students and community members and plan for the least educational disruption for students.

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On Friday, Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the state is not recommending that k-12 schools be closed at this point, because it would do little to help stem the spread of the disease.

“It is not believed that very early in an outbreak, two-week, short-duration closures can have an impact,” he said. 

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Culkeen said that any student displaying flu-like symptoms, including a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, should not come to school. Families are advised to call the child's primary care physician for guidance. He asked that families report if their child is absent with a respiratory illness or fever.

"If a student, staff, or community member associated with our school has been positively identified with COVID-19, we will coordinate with the Vermont Department of Health and the Vermont Agency of Education regarding school closure recommendations," Culkeen said.

If schools do close, he said, families will be notified by the same systems now in place for snow day cancellations.

He said the administrative staff is looking into educational options, which could include Alternative Structured Learning Days, assignment packets, online learning, reading lists and other developmentally appropriate learning activities. "It is important we plan for continuity for our students," he said.

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Culkeen offered the following guidelines for the school community:

- Teach children to cough and sneeze into a tissue (make sure to throw it away after each use) or to cough and sneeze into their arm or elbow, not their hands.

- Clean and disinfect your home as usual using regular household cleaning sprays and wipes.

- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; teach your children to do the same.

- Avoid travel to highly infected areas.

This story was updated at 11 a.m. on March 14, 2020.


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