WNESU institutes hybrid plan to reopen schools

WNESU presents plan for school reopening. Photo provided

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – The Windham Northeast Supervisory Union recently voted to move forward with a hybrid, or staggered, school schedule recommended by the superintendent to begin next month. The voting took place Aug. 5 via a Zoom conference, which included more than 200 people participating in the meeting. The plan will be instituted for Bellows Falls Union High School, Bellows Falls Middle School, Central Elementary School, Grafton Elementary School, Saxtons River Elementary School, and Westminster Center School.

Vermont schools are set to reopen Sept. 8 – six months after Gov. Phil Scott had ordered all schools in the state to close in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The final three months of the previous school year had been conducted between teachers and students via Google Meets conferencing.

The plan for the upcoming school year is for each school to alphabetically divide the student body for into two groups, with the first group physically attending school on Monday and Tuesday, and the second group attending on Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday, students and teachers will work together remotely while the vacant schools are deep cleaned. School day start times, schedules, and classes are still being determined.

It was decided that this hybrid plan will go into effect for the first six weeks of the school year, then will be reviewed by the WNESU to see what revisions, if any, need to be made. The majority of the people who attended the meeting were in favor of this hybrid plan, which is different than the initial plan previously recommended by the Rockingham School Board, calling for students to physically attend school five days a week, while following the Agency of Education’s pandemic protocols, including social distancing and masks for all teachers and students.

However, although WNESU is responsible for various district-wide services such as transportation and food service, the recent decision to institute the hybrid plan in the Bellows Falls area does not override the Rockingham School Board’s initial plan, which remains undetermined at press time.

Initially, it was believed there could be enough space at the various schools to accommodate all students while adhering to Vermont’s social distancing requirements, but upon further examination it was determined that it is simply not feasible. Therefore, the hybrid schedule and protocols were designed by a pandemic task force, made up of school administrators, directors, nurses, and teachers.

To ensure safety for all, it will be a requirement that school nurses perform a daily screening for each student before they enter the building, which will include a temperature check and specific questions about health and any possible symptoms of illness. Additionally, if a student fails a screening, either at the initial screening or during the school day, the student’s parent or guardian will be notified and required to pick up the student.

The school nurses are also working with state of Vermont guidelines on a plan to help streamline this potentially time-consuming process, such as creating a Google Doc that can be used via cell phone to answer screening questions before the student arrives at school, as well as the possibility of a student’s temperature being taken from home by a parent or guardian.

There will soon be more information available to parents and students in regards to safety protocol, school day start times, and class scheduling. Please visit the WNESU website at www.wnesu.org.

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