Admin Team Decision: Returning after April Break

 

April 9, 2021

Dear HUUSD Staff, Students, Board and Community, 

As most of you are aware, the Governor and Secretary of Education have strongly advised all schools to increase in person learning at the end of the school year whenever possible. We have been delayed in getting our after April break plan to you because we needed the newly revised AOE guidance, which was published yesterday, Thursday afternoon, April 8th. You can find A STRONG AND HEALTHY YEAR Safety and Health Guidance for Vermont Schools, Spring 2021 HERE. These guidelines have significantly changed.

On Friday, March 19, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) revised their guidance to schools indicating three feet of distance between students is sufficient for all elementary and middle and high schools in some situations (CDC guidance here).  While VT guidelines for schools have been at three feet for Pk- 6th grade since early October, their stipulation of 6 feet distancing for students in 7th grade and older has driven our hybrid schedule for that age range, as it is not possible to have all of these students in the classrooms and maintain distancing. With the recent change in CDC guidance, Governor Phil Scott has signaled we can expect a change in VTs expectations for our older students. (see this VT Digger article)  

After much careful study, the admin team concluded that the best way to end the school year well, in order to start the new school year strong, taking into consideration the needs of all students and staff, was to move to a 4-1 model on April 26th, for all K-12 grades currently attending the Hybrid Model. This means that all K-12 students will attend in person on M-TU-TH-F and remain remote on  Wednesday, except HURA. The HURA remote academy students will remain remote for the remainder of the school year.

HUUSD school leadership, like the rest of the nation, has carefully been evaluating returning our students to five days a week of in-person instruction.  With school staff fully vaccinated, we anticipate contact tracing will be less disruptive to schools, as vaccinated staff will not need to quarantine after potential exposure.  We appreciate that students, however, are not vaccinated and will still need to quarantine. Students 16 years and older become eligible for vaccines on April 19th, though. Everyone in our schools continues to follow all of our preventative safety protocols, from masking to health screening to distancing.

It has been pretty clear that the virus is not spread at school, but rather comes into school from the outside. Positive cases statewide have risen in the 10-30 year old population in recent weeks, but Washington County and our 6 towns do not look like other high count places. From August through March, HUUSD has had 27 total positive cases in students and staff with 11 of them in school during their infectious period. We total about 2010 staff and students..

In order to provide both remote and in person learning to all grade levels during this pandemic, we have significantly changed schedules and how the staff works. It is not possible to simply undo the current learning models and return to the pre-pandemic schedules

The decision to move HUUSD 7th- 12th grades to 4 days in-person learning, and to maintain this schedule for our kindergarten - 6th grades, is made after reviewing and evaluating the various options. All models, including moving to 5 days of in-person instruction, have been carefully considered and reviewed.  

By returning 7th- 12th grade students to four days/week, our older students will take important steps towards the full return we envision for next fall. Maintaining the routine of Wednesday for off-site classes has a variety of benefits. For many students, the more flexible schedule of Wednesdays is an opportunity to reset, supporting all of our students as they rebuild the sensory, social, emotional and physical regulation called for by in-person learning. Recognizing the array of needs within our student body, the measured step of returning to four days of in-person instruction is planned to support the greatest success for all. 

At the elementary level, where our students have followed a four day in-person week schedule since mid-October, we have carefully examined the benefits of adding a fifth day.  While the idea of more school is appealing, it would require some significant schedule changes. While our sight is firmly fixed on the return to five days, we also recognize the impact of disrupting routines and schedule. We believe such a change, which would only add 7 days of in-person instruction for K- 6th graders (following the April 25 implementation date) would not yield positives that outweigh the impact of such a disruption. We have been very fortunate to have minimal school closures due to COVID-19 this school year. Given all of the uncertainty and changes experienced by all over the past year, we believe that a strong, steady approach of maintaining this schedule for the remainder of this year will have the most positive impact upon our students.

Wednesday’s off-site learning schedule affords a variety of benefits, some of them more apparent than others. Most students will cite the opportunity to not wear a mask for a day and to be outside more as a positive. Our middle and high school students have particularly enjoyed a later start on Wednesdays and the opportunity to sleep a bit more. Off-site learning Wednesdays accommodate some key schedule needs as well: 

  • Applied arts in the Valley and TBPS are following a different schedule to minimize staff traveling between schools (valley) or pods (TBPS), following state guidance.  Offsite instruction on Wednesdays allows student/teacher contact with content areas that might otherwise go a month or longer without seeing each other in person. This is particularly important for instruction that builds upon consistent repetition, such as French.
  • Adults cannot meet in person in groups of any size, requiring most meetings to be remote. It is challenging to find places to accommodate even small group meetings during the school day that comply with this expectation (with each adult in their own space), to say nothing of staff meetings. Additionally, to accommodate smaller groups of students gathering (i.e., students eating lunch in individual classrooms, as opposed to together in the cafeteria) staff schedules are very full, making scheduling of a team of staff who work with a student, for example, very difficult. Currently, most meetings, from staff meetings to unit/department meetings to individual student meetings, occur on Wednesdays.  The end of the school year typically includes far more meetings, as we transition students between schools and teams.
  • The current in-person schedule results in significantly diminished preparation time for staff. Our COVID compatible schedules are not regular school for our staff, but ask much more of them. Wednesdays’ schedules allow us to meet contractual expectations regarding providing  preparation time.   
  • Buildings not having regular students on Wednesdays will allow us to host in-person step-up days for students entering new schools without intermixing school populations. 
  • Our ability to provide applied arts instruction to our HURA students, as well as for CBMS staff to support the 7th/8th grade students on Wednesday, depends upon Wednesday's current format. 
  • Our chorus and band classes, which cannot perform together in person, can meet via video instruction on Wednesdays. This cannot be physically accommodated (everyone must be in a separate room) while in the school building.
  • Most of our students are not vaccinated. We continue to have required quarantining for students. While we all hope not to have to transition to remote instruction, the Wednesday routines guarantee that practices are in place to support success should we need to transition to remote instruction at any time. Additionally, the remote instruction on Wednesdays allows students in quarantine to meet directly with their teachers and classmates. Attendance/participation in the remote work has been fairly strong. 
  • By allowing the adults and students to go 2 days and then have a reset day and then two more, really is necessary at this point. Many believe this is largely why we have been able to meet with as much success as we have during these extreme circumstances. The schedule change required for Wednesday would create more stress for the students and outway the benefit of the 5th day.
  • We continue to be short staffed in our custodial department, since we could not fully hire this year even though we have continued to advertise. Wednesday is our catch up day and provides for more thorough cleaning. This is so necessary given that lunch is eaten in all the classrooms and we have a significant increase in cleaning protocols due to COVID.
  • All special education and support schedules are built for the 4-1 model; plans would have to be amended to move to the 5 days schedule. The regulations would require rewriting every IEP.
  • All students need to remain capable of moving to remote on any given day for the remainder of the year and possibly into the fall due to quarantine. Remote Wednesdays allows students to continue using those skills. 
  • Teachers can continue to teach on remote Wednesdays even if they are in quarantine.
  • Keeping Wednesdays remote will support the administration of state required SBAC testing to our HURA students and could provide opportunities for make-ups as needed for all students.

I want to fully acknowledge that there are differing opinions among students, staff, and parents as to whether we should change our student schedules at all at this late date in the school year. The voices from the Governor, Agency of Education, pediatricians, mental health professionals, and most parents, strongly recommend that students attend as many in-person days as possible these last several months. You can find the response to our parent survey as of this writing HERE.

Not only is it suggested that in-person learning will be healthier for students, but it is necessary to cross the bridge from this pandemic year into a strong start in the fall. Our students need to be back in school and with each other as a whole group. We need to observe and evaluate the academic, social, and emotional well-being of all our students, and the toll that this pandemic year has taken. The focus to increase 7th-12th days will provide practice before the fall to support all of us with the reality of the changes ahead. We anticipate that next school year will be full in-person days, given the trajectory of the pandemic and vaccinations.

None of the decisions we have made through this pandemic have met the exact needs of all students and families, and we understand that this decision is no different. That said, we truly believe this is the very best that we can do while still managing many of the same restrictions and safety protocols still in place. 

In addition, we are working on comprehensive enrichment and credit recovery summer plans for all students who wish to participate. More details on those plans will be out as soon as possible. Today’s Governor’s conference included new information about the vast expansion of summer opportunities for all students in the state.

Thank you for working with us on this pandemic year long journey. We appreciate your ongoing support during a tough year for all. 

With warm regards,

Superintendent Nease














 

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