Speculation abounds about the possibility that schools may shift to all-remote learning following the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. I started hearing about this weeks ago, before we had completed our first month of school, as some staff and families have expressed their wish or intent to travel out of State for that long weekend. The motivation behind closing is it would allow school staff and families to travel without having their work or learning interrupted because they are quarantining upon return to Vermont – school would go on with teachers and kids at home during quarantine. Many were hoping the Agency of Education would make a statewide decision in favor of closing schools after Thanksgiving, but we have been told repeatedly by the Secretary that the Agency will do no such thing. That leaves open the possibility that individual Superintendents like myself will make that decision for the schools that we serve. I am aware of neighboring Districts in Vermont and New Hampshire that have decided to go back to remote learning for all of their students after Thanksgiving. My purpose here is not to criticize others’ decisions, but to explain why Caledonia Central SU will not be closing its schools after Thanksgiving.
There are two key factors behind our decision. First, we know from our experience with all-remote learning this spring that it is not the best way to be educating our kids. While we do have some families who opted for all-remote learning for their children due to personal safety concerns, we have no doubt that all of our students will be better off when we get back to full in-person instruction. Right now, the vast majority of our students are benefiting from at least some in-person instruction, even if the days are shortened (typical in the elementary grades) or limited by the hybrid model, with some days at school and some working from home (middle and high school, mostly). We don’t want to lose what limited in-person time we are managing now, and if folks cooperate and stay out of unsafe areas, we won’t have to.
We also know from our experience with all-remote learning this spring that it placed a tremendous burden on many of our families to find childcare and support the instructional programs at home. This is largely a matter of equity - not all of our students have good internet access and/or an adult at home to support their learning, and they are burdened the most when we take away in-person instruction. We did that for three months this spring, and we are still coming to grips with the loss of progress that many of these students experienced as a result.
Finally, here is my own public safety perspective: It is my opinion (shared by many I know) that placing the burden of all-remote learning on our families again simply to convenience staff and family travel to places they should be staying away from anyway, is counter-intuitive at a time when we should all be hunkering down and hopefully knocking the heck out of this virus once and for all.