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Forum Held On Reopening Burlington Schools

School bus
Pat Bradley/WAMC

Schools in Vermont open next Tuesday. Most are adopting hybrid operations, and schools and parents are in the final week of preparing for the new system. On Wednesday evening Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger hosted a forum on Reopening the Burlington School System to discuss the district’s readiness and take questions from residents.
A task force has been working since April to plan for the reopening of Burlington schools. The 16 members created 12 work groups to coordinate with unions, students, city officials and others on the needs and concerns regarding reopening schools across the city.  Superintendent Tom Flanagan says there is a remote option and another hybrid plan that will have students attending either on Monday and Thursday or on Tuesday and Friday with all students remote on Wednesday.  “Ninety percent of our students chose the hybrid model. And so I think that just shows the will of the community to return to school in person. About 10 percent of our families chose the remote option. Obviously health and safety is our number one priority and so we are really prioritizing making sure that we have health and safety precautions in place.”

Class sizes will be smaller with desks placed 3 to 6 feet apart. Air purifiers have been installed and ventilation systems have been checked and cleaned.  Some classrooms have plexiglass barriers to separate individuals, and outdoor learning is being emphasized.

University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. William Raszka presented data showing that in areas with low prevalence of COVID-19 there has been little transmission in schools.  He said Burlington is in a great position to reopen schools because Vermont’s overall transmission rate is very low.  “We want to make sure that if you’re ill that you don’t enter school. This is going to put pressure on families that sometimes children would go to school with a runny nose or something but we have to make sure that nobody ill enters the school system. Inside the school we have to minimize transmission so masking is going to be important. All children are going to be required to wear masks unless there’s a development or a medical reason not to wear that. The teachers will be wearing masking. We’re going to use physical distancing. We’re going to avoid congregating in an indoor facilities like gymnasiums or cafeterias. Hand washing will be important. And of course we’re going to identify those people who might be infected and isolate.”
Residents typed in a number of Zoom questions for the panelists on daily operations during the pandemic. Some residents wondered how quickly schools will transition from the hybrid model Burlington is adopting to full in-person instruction.  “Hi this is Kiernan Turner. (Vermont Education) Secretary French indicated that schools would likely be going to Step 3 right away, like in two weeks. And so I wondered how Burlington schools were going to handle the physical distancing in that scenario with all kids back at school?”
Superintendent Flanagan: “There are three steps in the guidance for returning to school. Step one is fully remote. Step two is this hybrid remote and then Step three loosens some of those restrictions. The important thing to know is that moving to Step three doesn’t mean that we are directed or given the green light to immediately go into full in-person instruction.”


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