By Gregory J. Lamoureux
Schools throughout Vermont were ordered to close today by Governor Phil Scott, amid concerns for the spread of COVID-19, better known at the novel coronavirus.
The closings will begin on Wednesday, March 18th thru April 6th.
No student is required to be in school Monday or Tuesday, if their parents or guardians would prefer to keep them home.
Education professionals should report to work as scheduled to assist in these efforts during this period of school dismissal. Districts are directed to follow workplace hygiene guidance issued by the Vermont Department of Health.
“This decision is based on the best scientific evidence available to the experts at the Vermont Department of Health,” said Dr. Mark Levine. “Closing schools at the end of the day Tuesday is another important step to help keep us ahead of the curve, in terms of preventing and reducing spread of COVID-19.”
“The orderly dismissal of schools is essential to support both the State’s response to COVID-19 and the needs of children and families across Vermont,” Governor Scott said. “We must ensure children are safe, nourished, and still learning even as the traditional structure of school is disrupted. The work of educators will be essential in this effort.”
Governor Scott continued, “This is a moment of service for all of us. I know that educators across Vermont will do their part to support students and families. I’ve asked the Agency of Education to work with superintendents and local districts to ensure every child continues to receive the services they need from their schools, as well as assignments to take home to continue their academic studies.”
Governor Scott said that, while he hoped schools would only need to be closed through April 6, it is possible they will be closed for a longer period and families and businesses should prepare for this possibility.
According to state estimates, there are around 80,000 students in Vermont, as well as around 18,000 teachers that will no longer be commuting to work or school on a daily basis- and their presence together will no longer allow for the quick transmittal of the virus through a school population. It will therefore also slow the spread through a community.
This decision means that about 1 in every 6 people in Vermont will now be staying home on a daily basis.
Health workers are warning of a spike in cases of COVID-19, and are taking precautions, like the closing of schools, to reduce the possibilities of the number of people being infected at any given time reaching numbers that could overcome the state’s hospital capacity.
There is about one hospital bed in Vermont for every 2,300 people in the state. That, coupled with the virus’s 1% expectant fatality rate, could quickly overpower the state’s healthcare system.
The Vermont Health Department had asked that only those in immediate need of medical care go to hospitals. If you think you have the virus, first contact your primary care provider, go to an urgent care clinic, or call the Vermont Health Department’s epidemiology and infectious disease staff at 802-863-7240.
Vermont’s decision to close schools is far from out of the ordinary- a map of school closures nationwide is being updated by Education Week, here.
Prior to the decision to close school statewide, a few school districts closed for a few days at a time, including the Willison School District, the Windham Southwest Supervisory Union, and the Stamford Elementary School.
The Governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu ordered Sunday afternoon that all New Hampshire schools be closed down and that educators transition to remote learning. That closure is expected to last for at least three weeks.
The Vermont Principals’ Association announced late last week that they would be canceling all remaining winter playoffs, as well as holding off on allowing any spring sports from commencing until further notice, including pitching and catching practice.
Governor Scott said, to prepare for the potential for an extended dismissal, each district must have a Continuity of Education Plan that includes:
• Meal service for those who need it
• Services for children with disabilities and special needs
• Working with the state to provide district-based options that meet the childcare needs of healthcare workers and other Vermonters essential to the response (EMS, Fire, LEO, National Guard personnel, etc.)
• Ensuring children have trackable work to do when schools are dismissed Tuesday
• A remote learning plan that prepares for schools to be closed for a longer period
School districts that have Continuity of Education Plans in place that meet these directives may elect to close before Wednesday. All schools should be closed for instruction at the end of the school day on Tuesday.
Under the Governor’s directive, schools will remain operational for administrators, teachers and staff to sustain essential services and to plan and implement continuity of education through remote learning. The Vermont Department of Health has provided “social distancing” guidance that districts should use to ensure a healthy workplace.
Governor Scott also added that the State understands there will be many unique challenges around specific students or specific programs and that every district is going to have a different localized approach.
“We need local government – and especially our schools and educators – to lend their capable hands and their enormous hearts in this effort. It is very important to the overall response.”
The County Courier was the first to report this news, and although the situation remains fluid, we’ll have more information as it is released.