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Educators Discuss Pandemic Impact On Schools And Upcoming Reopening

School bus
Pat Bradley/WAMC

In March, Vermont Governor Phil Scott dismissed all in-person pre-K through grade 12 classes for the remainder of the academic year.  On June 10th he announced that data and tracking of the coronavirus in the state indicated it is safe to reopen in person teaching in the fall. The Vermont-NEA held a virtual town hall this week with Vermont’s sole Congressman and the state Senate President to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the state’s schools and teachers.
On Wednesday the Vermont Agency of Education issued itssafety and health regulations for the fall reopening of schools. Requirements include that each school appoint a COVID-19 coordinator and students and staff have a daily health check at the “first point of contact.” Face coverings will be required with some exceptions.  

More than 40 members of the Vermont NEA met to discuss the financial and practical ramifications of reopening schools.  Vermont Democratic Congressman Peter Welch told the educators that Congress is the only entity with the flexibility to be the backstop for any economic fallout from the pandemic.  “In the CARES package we did get $90 billion in a stabilization program for elementary and secondary education. But the next big package that I think is absolutely crucial, we passed it in the House, it's called the Hero’s Act. But it's lagging in the Senate. And the immediate consequence if we don't do it is brutal pressure on our school budgets, in our healthcare budgets, among other things.”

Teachers had a number of questions for their Democratic Congressional representative including Saxtons River kindergarten teacher Holly Taylor.  “We're right now putting in our orders for next year. And of course when we requested a certain amount of money we didn't think that we would need masks and gloves and all this stuff. Is there going to be money coming from the federal government that is going to help with those things? Every kid might need to have their own set of materials and that ends up costing a lot. And I was just curious if there is money how it would be distributed and when we might be able to get it?”

Welch explained to Taylor that money has been approved by the federal government and has been channeled to Vermont for distribution to communities.  “Advocate in Montpelier because I think you and your colleagues all have a very similar and very legitimate need.”

Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Democrat/Progressive Tim Ashe said the state has received $1.2 billion in pandemic resources from the federal government.  Of the $50 million targeting education most - $43.5 million – must be used for special costs incurred by COVID-19.  “The reason for that emphasis is that the money has to be used in a way that ties into either losses occurred as a result of COVID or expenses that you wouldn't have otherwise had except for COVID. So we're going to need school districts to be very creative to identify additional expenses so that we can draw down as much of that federal money as possible to use for our school districts, especially knowing how big the funding hole has become.”

High school teacher Kerrin McCadden told Pro Tem Ashe that she is concerned about how the new state guidelines will affect staffing.   “We're already maxed in terms of the number of staff we have to students. I don't feel confident that there's a way to make high schools safe. And I don't feel real confident yet that we are getting the kind of guidelines that we can actually follow from the state.”
Pro Tem Ashe:  “Kerrin, I, I, I completely agree that the guidelines are not at the place that gives you much confidence about what it's going to look like in the fall. Some of it can be excused because a lot’s been happening in the last few months and I think the next couple months is going to be a constant journey to getting some answers about this.”


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