St. Johnsbury School Working On Full Re-Opening Plan

Masked St. Johnsbury School students prepare to board buses parked outside the school on Oct. 8, 2020. (File Photo by Dana Gray)

There have been repeated calls for a full re-opening of the St. Johnsbury School for in-person learning recently.

But it’s one thing to make that request during the COVID-19 pandemic and another thing entirely to figure out how such an arrangement would work.

Planning for a full reopening is being handled by the St. Johnsbury School’s “Reopening Task Force” which presented an update to the school board on their progress Monday.

The Reopening Task Force is using guidance from the Agency of Education and Vermont Department of Health as they try to come up with a plan to bring more PK-6 students back into the building.

“At this point, we’re just looking through the guidance and looking at the way our school runs,” said St. Johnsbury School Co-principal Lydia Cochrane during the presentation. “What can we do? What can’t we do? What are the pros and cons of doing all these things?”

What became clear during the presentation was that even the most routine activities will be much harder to manage under the current state guidelines if the school ended its hybrid learning model and returned most or all of its students to a regular five-day-a-week classroom schedule.

Even morning arrivals would result in a new set of challenges and needs for the school, said Cochrane.

“We would need more screeners in the morning and that would be double the amount of people in the front and the back loop and in a bus,” said Cochrane. “It would increase traffic, it would increase the amount of time that it takes people to drop off. But our protocol would be the same.”

In addition, students on buses would be closer together and there would be no guarantee of empty seats for COVID-19 spacing.

Student departures at the end of the day would also present a new problem to grapple with under the current state guidelines.

“There’s just no way that we can keep kids three feet apart during dismissal,” said Cochrane. “It’s hard enough to keep them three feet apart with the amount of students that we have right now.”

Co-Principal Jeremy Ross told the board that some classroom setups would see some significant changes under the current state guidelines.

“The recommendation really is that the students are all facing in the same directions so it will pretty dramatically change,” said Ross. “Some classrooms where kids are now 3-6 feet apart, but able to be more around the outside of the room looking into the middle or in different groupings, but as we increase the number of students in the classroom we’ll probably have to step back into that older practice of having kids in rows all facing the same direction.”

More students in the building also creates more risk of virus transmission, said Cochrane.

“It means that we are risking having to quarantine more students, more classes and more grades if there’s a positive COVID case,” said Cochrane.

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