Changes to GMUSD district may include procedures, schedule, and class size

During the Feb. 17 GMUSD board meeting, attendees discussed an incident at the middle school involving three students, and Superintendent Fierman discussed upcoming school schedules. Photo provided

CHESTER, Vt. – The Green Mountain Unified School District Board was able to accomplish nearly two hours of business before being ended abruptly by a power outage during their Feb. 17 meeting. During that time, the board heard from two parents and a grandmother about an incident that happened at the middle school, and Superintendent Lauren Fierman laid out two upcoming initiatives for the district – considering early release professional development for all district schools, and reconfiguring classes to achieve an ideal class size.

The Green Mountain Union Middle/High School incident involved three middle school girls, all aged 12, who were pulled from their classrooms and brought into a separate room by the Assistant Principal Mike Ripley and a female guidance counselor for suspicion of using vape devices. They were allegedly searched, made to empty pockets and bags, and patted down. No vape devices were found.

One parent called the incident, “Totally uncalled for,” and said that parents were only notified several hours afterward with a blunt, two-sentence email. The parent called to question the policies and procedures that were in place at the school.

Another parent said that physical and emotional boundaries were crossed, and that since then, her daughter has missed several days of school to process the incident. The parent said that she was hoping there could be changes to procedures at the school, turning what happened into something positive. The girl’s grandmother asked that the board keep an eye on the timeline of how the incident is addressed and termed the incident, “appalling,” and said that it has caused her granddaughter “horrific trauma.”

Fierman advised parents to follow the established chain of command: first meeting with Ripley, then, if not resolved, moving on to discuss with GMUHS Principal Keith Hill, and then to the Superintendent’s office if still not resolved. She said they have an obligation not to discuss anything in a public forum.

Board Chairman Joe Fromberger said that the board would not take any action until the administration had in-depth contact, first at the school level, and then with the superintendent’s office.

Fierman asked the board to consider meeting with the Ludlow Mount Holly Unified Union School Board for a joint session to discuss aligning the school schedules for all five Two Rivers Supervisory Union schools. The key point being whether to include a weekly early release day with embedded professional development time for all schools, mirroring the one at Cavendish Town Elementary School, or to eliminate the early release day for Cavendish altogether.

Fierman expressed her support for the alignment, saying, “I believe there is a clear benefit for our teachers and therefore our students in having this.” She acknowledged that the decision must be weighed against the responsibility for parents to find childcare solutions for that half-day each week. Cavendish has been able to provide an afterschool program that covers childcare for that day, but that may not be possible for all schools.

The schedule would replace five days of professional development throughout the school term, equaling approximately 40 hours, with weekly time, which would provide approximately 75 hours.

Fierman said that she had done surveys of parents and school staff throughout the district, who were largely split on the issue, but she urged the board not to consider this when making a decision. Rather, she asked them to make a decision based on the value to the teachers and students.

The board agreed to meet with the LMHUUSD board to discuss further so that they can make a decision together. The joint meeting will be scheduled at the end of March. Input from different members of the GMUSD board during the discussion showed that the board members were split on the issue. Fierman provided the board with a slideshow put together by the Cavendish staff that highlighted positive outcomes from the half-day development.

Fierman outlined another district wide initiative she was planning to implement: a two to three-year plan for right-sizing classrooms at the elementary level with an ideal number of students, roughly 13–18 kids per class. She said that class sizes of five, six, or seven kids was not a benefit to students nor fiscally feasible for the district. The plan would include multiple-grade classrooms as well as other options. She said they could make an option to move between schools as well. She made the point that, in a broader sense, GMUSD has two elementary schools and that the administration will be “making decisions about how to best use those two schools for all of the members who live in Cavendish, Chester, Baltimore, and Andover, to attend those schools in the best possible way.”

She said that the process would be done through attrition over the course of two to three years so that no teachers would be fired, but rather pared down through retirement or normal turnover.

Fierman said she would put the initiative on future agendas and present a more formal plan, to see if the board will adopt the proposal for implementation over next several years.

The next GMUSD regular board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 17 at 6 p.m. The school budget informational meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. via Zoom and at GMUHS.

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