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Monday, July 6, 2020

Vermont State Colleges System Appoints New Chancellor

Posted By on Mon, Jul 6, 2020 at 8:05 PM

The Vermont State Colleges System took a step toward stability on Monday and appointed
  • Courtesy Vermont State Colleges System
  • Sophie Zdatny
 interim Chancellor Sophie Zdatny as its new permanent leader.

Zdatny has led the chancellor's office since late April, taking over for Jeb Spaulding after he resigned in the wake of his highly controversial proposal to shutter three campuses.

The college system's board of trustees offered Zdatny a one-year renewable contract Monday night following an hourlong executive session. Trustees praised her efforts to stabilize the system and thanked her for taking on the challenge of leading it into the future.

"She's rewritten the definition of 'interim,'" said board of trustees chair J. Churchill Hindes during Monday's virtual meeting. "Most people think of interim as a caretaker, just keep the lights on. It's been nothing like that whatsoever."

"The change from the emotional and the practical situation we were in when we appointed [her] ... to where we are now, is remarkable," he added.

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Monday, June 29, 2020

Vermont Law School to Hold Classes Online This Fall

Posted By on Mon, Jun 29, 2020 at 3:17 PM

Vermont Law School - FILE: BEN DEFLORIO
  • FIle: Ben Deflorio
  • Vermont Law School
The Vermont Law School will hold all classes online this fall in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the college said Monday.

The decision comes as higher education institutions across the nation are grappling with how best to balance learning experience with safety amid the virus' continued spread.

"The most demanding challenge posed by the pandemic is uncertainty," said Thomas McHenry, president and dean of Vermont Law School, in a press release. "We want to provide as much notice to our students, faculty, and staff, in order to plan appropriately and deliver the high-quality course content and access to faculty that VLS is known for."

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Monday, June 22, 2020

Middlebury Will Welcome Students Back to Campus This Fall

Posted By on Mon, Jun 22, 2020 at 6:21 PM

McCardell Bicentennial Hall at Middlebury - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • McCardell Bicentennial Hall at Middlebury
Middlebury College will hold in-person classes this fall, the private liberal arts school announced Monday, but students must pass multiple COVID-19 tests and quarantine periods before they can return.

"While this fall will look much different than at any time in our history, I am grateful that we will be able to come together again in a way that upholds educational opportunity while maximizing the health and safety of the entire Middlebury community," president Laurie Patton said in a detailed campus letter.

Like the University of Vermont, Middlebury is planning for a semester in which in-person classes conclude before the traditional Thanksgiving break. On-campus classes will run from September 8 to November 20, and resume on November 30 for online instruction and remote final exams.

New policies intended to limit coronavirus exposure will affect every aspect of campus life, beginning with students' arrival.

Before coming to campus, students will be asked to quarantine at their homes for two weeks. They will arrive according to staggered move-in and orientation schedules. Upon their return, students will be tested for COVID-19 and quarantined in their dorm rooms until they get results. If negative, they will enter a weeklong "campus quarantine" period, during which they cannot leave campus property.

Additional tests may be administered throughout the semester, Patton said. The college is setting aside one residential building for "isolation housing" for any students who test positive.

Professors may decide whether or not to hold their classes in person; Patton wrote that initial responses from faculty suggested that a third of classes will be taught remotely.

Athletics and extracurricular programs are still up in the air, though Patton wrote that the school hopes to "provide meaningful experiences for our student-athletes."

Off-campus travel will also be limited, and the college will restrict guest speakers and other visitors.

Patton said the college's plan meets or exceeds all state and federal guidance. Gov. Phil Scott has not released specific reopening guidance for Vermont Colleges, "but we have been working closely with the state and have a good sense of what the new guidelines will say," Patton wrote. 

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Vermont's Back-to-School Rules Mandate Masks, Temperature Checks and Sanitizer

Posted By on Thu, Jun 18, 2020 at 1:23 PM

A Spanish lesson at Jericho Elementary School - FILE: GLENN RUSSELL FOR KIDS VT
  • File: Glenn Russell for Kids VT
  • A Spanish lesson at Jericho Elementary School
Vermont's schoolchildren will return this fall to vastly different school systems that feature temperature checks to board school buses, mandatory face coverings, closed cafeterias and hand-sanitizer stations at school entrances.

Those measures are included in 23 pages of guidance for K-12 public and private schools that Vermont's Agency of Education and Department of Health released on Wednesday.

Drafted with input from infectious disease experts, pediatricians, and public health and education professionals, the document — “A Strong and Healthy Start: Safety and Health Guidance for Reopening Schools, Fall 2020” — aims to decrease the risk of transmission of COVID-19 among staff and students.

The document states that the guidance may evolve and will be updated as new information becomes available. What is certain, though, is that schools will look and feel markedly different than they did when students were dismissed in mid-March, with enhanced physical distancing measures in place.

Guidelines include daily health screening for students and staff — involving both verbal questions and a temperature check — at the first point of contact. That means students dropped off at school will be checked before they enter the building. Those who take a bus must be screened before they even board. If a student has a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, they will be sent home.

If COVID-19 is confirmed in a student or staff member, the school areas they had used will be closed off, cleaned and disinfected.

Additional measures include hand-sanitizing stations and the disinfecting of common spaces and frequently touched surfaces at the beginning, middle and end of each day.

Both students and staff must wear facial coverings — cloth masks or clear facial shields — while inside the school building. If they can't maintain six feet of social distancing when outside, their faces must be covered. That can be waived for students with medical or behavioral conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask.

Visitation to schools will be curtailed extensively, and parents will not be able to enter when they drop their kids off.

The document outlines physical-distancing measures that should be implemented to reduce contact between students. When feasible, the same group of students should stay in their designated classroom, and the same teachers and staff should remain with those students all day. The guidance notes that this “will need to be addressed differently to meet the needs of high school (and maybe middle school) students,” but it does not specify what this might look like.

Within classrooms, desks should be spaced six feet apart and facing in one direction. The sharing of art supplies and computer and lab equipment should be limited.  Communal spaces including the cafeteria and gymnasium should be closed unless they are needed for additional classroom space. Students will eat lunch in their classrooms.

Outdoor recess space can be used as long as physical distancing is possible, and playground equipment should be cleaned frequently throughout the day. The teacher’s lounge should be closed, and physical barriers should be installed in reception areas and employee work spaces where distancing isn’t possible.

Group activities with the potential to generate increased respiratory droplets and aerosols, such as singing and music involving brass and woodwind instruments, are to be avoided.

To aid in contact tracing, students should have assigned seats. Staff members should keep track of all those who enter their classrooms and are encouraged to keep a daily list of those they come into close contact with.

Libby Bonesteel, superintendent of Montpelier-Roxbury Public Schools, shared her initial thoughts about the document via email. She said she was anticipating much of the guidance related to masks, physical distancing and health checks. Her district is already developing plans for those protocols.

Bonesteel said there were several parts of the guidance she found contradictory. The document states that if children are too young to answer the verbal health screening questions accurately before they enter school, a parent should remain with them. But because parents are not allowed in the building, that means that, in her district, there will be upwards of 250 children and their parents who will have to wait outside each day for screening.

The transportation requirements will be an issue, particularly for rural towns and schools, said Bonesteel. “It is not a bus driver’s job, nor should it be, to do health screenings on children," she wrote. "Hiring bus monitors will be extremely hard for school districts.”

Vicki Graf, principal of Jericho Elementary School, also had concerns about the expense of daily health screenings and additional supplies. Said Graf: “I think our school districts are going to need support from the state to cover these costs.”

The guidelines are here:

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Monday, June 15, 2020

UVM Details Plan to Resume In-Person Classes This Fall

Posted By on Mon, Jun 15, 2020 at 8:52 PM

The University of Vermont campus - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • The University of Vermont campus
University of Vermont officials have released more details about their plan to resume in-person classes this fall, endorsing safety protocols that will dramatically alter how students live and learn on campus.

Among the more notable changes are a tweak to the university's academic calendar, a mask-wearing requirement and a push to thin out residence halls in the name of social distancing. The goal, university leaders say, is to preserve some aspects of the traditional academic experience while protecting employees and students from coronavirus outbreaks.

"While there is more work to do, I’m confident the framework will enable UVM to offer a high quality education to our students and a productive work setting for faculty and staff in an environment that puts their safety and well-being first," UVM president Suresh Garimella wrote in a message to the campus community Monday afternoon detailing the changes.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Vermont Plans to Reopen K-12 Schools This Fall

Posted By on Wed, Jun 10, 2020 at 3:48 PM

Gov. Phil Scott, left, and Education Secretary Dan French in 2018 - FILE: JOHN WALTERS
  • File: John Walters
  • Gov. Phil Scott, left, and Education Secretary Dan French in 2018
Vermont's K-12 schools will return to in-person instruction in the fall, state officials said Wednesday, though they cautioned that closures may be reinstated in response to future coronavirus outbreaks.

"Our approach will focus on the health and safety of kids, their families, as well as teachers, staff and anyone else working in schools, and find ways to make the school day as normal as possible," Gov. Phil Scott said during his regular press briefing Wednesday.

Scott shuttered schools in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which, at the time, was weeks away from its peak in Vermont. Health officials were still learning about how to best curb its spread, and many feared that children could transmit the virus to older, more vulnerable adults.
On Wednesday, Scott said officials are still "learning more every day" about the virus. But he said they feel confident in the tools they have and the knowledge they've gained over the last three months to prepare for the transition back to school.

"We acknowledge there's no perfect replacement for the learning that takes place in a school building," Scott said. “[Remote learning] cannot continue without kids falling behind in their schoolwork."

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Monday, June 1, 2020

UVM, St. Mike's Close On-Campus Childcare Programs

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2020 at 6:27 PM

  • Maria Nikiforova | Dreamstime
Updated on June 3, 2020.

Monday marked the first day that childcare centers in Vermont could reopen after shutting down for 10 weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic. But programs based at the University of Vermont and Saint Michael’s College both announced recently that they won’t reopen.

Both centers blamed the permanent closures on money woes. UVM, for instance, spent $550,000 annually to fill the budget shortfall at its Campus Children’s School. The center served 56 families — though nearly 600 more kids were on the waiting list, according to a UVM statement on the closure.

The center’s location “within a student residence hall complex presents risks in light of the pandemic,” the statement said. “Other suitable campus locations are not available.”

“It is with a heavy heart that we announce this difficult decision,” Scott Thomas, dean of the College of Education and Social Services, said in a statement. “I know that the CCS has touched families in the UVM Community in innumerable positive ways over the past three decades. But the path forward became overwhelmingly clear in light of the circumstances we must confront, and continuing the program is simply unsustainable. I share the sadness that the school’s staff will undoubtedly experience, and we will do what we can to assist them with the transition to other employment.”

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Burlington Superintendent Urges White Students to 'Stand Beside' People of Color

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2020 at 3:42 PM

Burlington Superintendent of Schools Yaw Obeng - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Burlington Superintendent of Schools Yaw Obeng
Burlington Superintendent of Schools Yaw Obeng on Monday urged white students and families to "stand beside" people of color in response to the recent police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The outgoing superintendent issued a call to action in a three-minute video message addressing the peaceful protests and unruly riots that have jolted the country in recent days. Hundreds demonstrated outside the Burlington Police Department on Saturday.
"Our students should know that it is OK to feel outrage," Obeng said. "It is OK to feel anger and a sense of helplessness because the adults around you have failed to do the right things to enable you to inherit a society where people feel safe and respected.

"But considering these emotions, it is not OK to riot. It is not OK to loot. But it is OK to stand up, protest, speak out and develop a plan for change," he continued.

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Friday, May 29, 2020

Teacher COVID Cases Worry Educators as Childcare Center Prepares to Reopen

Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2020 at 6:26 PM

Educators rallying last week in Montpelier - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Educators rallying last week in Montpelier
As childcare programs prepare to reopen as soon as June 1, anxiety is running high for some childcare providers. Those who work at Early Education Services — which, prior to COVID-19, served 184 young children and employed 70 staff members in Brattleboro and Westminster — are especially on edge.

In early May, two teachers providing care for children of essential workers tested positive for the coronavirus. The center closed immediately, executive director Deb Gass said, and none of the children in the teachers’ care tested positive for the virus.

There have been no other cases of COVID-19 in Vermont linked to childcare programs that provided care for children of essential workers in March, April and May, according to Dr. Breena Holmes, maternal and child heath director for the Vermont Department of Health. Only one child in the state under the age of 9 has tested positive for COVID-19, and there have been no documented cases of the multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children that has been linked to the novel coronavirus, she added.

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Friday, May 22, 2020

UVM, Burlington Plan 'Supportive Quarantine' Program for Returning Students

Posted By on Fri, May 22, 2020 at 5:43 PM

The University of Vermont and the state Department of Health are working with the Vermont National Guard to set up an on-campus testing site for students as they begin to return to Burlington on June 1.

Many off-campus leases begin that day, and the city and UVM are expecting students, a majority from out of state, to start streaming back into town. Officials and city residents have expressed concerns that those students could bring the coronavirus back with them.

Out-of-state students, like anyone returning to Vermont, must quarantine for 14 days — meaning stay on their property — before venturing out. Mayor Miro Weinberger said during a briefing Friday that, anticipating difficulties, the city will implement a "supportive quarantine" service for housebound students.

The program will also be available to other Burlington residents who return from out of state, such as second-home owners or snowbirds.

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