District irons out logistics; schools to be used for child care
DOVER - The River Valleys Unified Union School District board held its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday at The Dover School, two days shy of the date that Gov. Scott ordered schools closed. The board conducted normal business over the two-hour meeting, which included an update about how students will be served during a COVID-19 shutdown.
Dover School principal Matt Martyn and Wardsboro Elementary principal Tammy Bates said they had surveyed families as to whether they had adequate internet access at home to complete schoolwork from there. Martyn said he had been surprised to learn that only 55% of students had “adequate” internet, which he had defined as 50 Mbps.
Board member Laura Sibilia, a state representative who has focused in recent years on broadband connectivity, said most of Dover is not eligible for that level of service. Martyn said that while text-based work and websites should be fine at that speed, the concern about the adequacy of an internet connection had been around streaming videos.
“I think it would be appropriate to worry about streaming in some of the rural areas,” said Sibilia.
Martyn said internet access is available in the parking lot of The Dover School, should people want to access the internet while staying quarantined in a car. Board member Marc Schauber asked whether students would be able to access the school building to do work if necessary, as the building was to be staffed.
Martyn said “Right now, the answer is yes.” But as of Wednesday, it’s unclear what the logistics of the building will be. On Wednesday morning, Scott announced an order that schools be used as child care facilities for the children of essential workers, which at a Wednesday press conference was defined as grocery store workers, health care workers, first responders, criminal justice personnel, public health employees, child care providers, school staff, National Guard personnel, and some state employees. Late Wednesday, a more extensive list was published by the state, which included pharmacy personnel, sanitation workers, delivery drivers, fuel drivers, and others. The full order can be viewed at https://vem.vermont.gov/sites/demhs/files/Essential%20Persons_03182020.pdf.
It is unclear when such school-based child care services will begin or how they will operate. At a press conference on Wednesday, Scott, Agency of Education Secretary Dan French, and Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said schools will be used to serve children ages 6 and up. The administration said it is exploring options for children ages 0 to 5. Staff will be required to report to schools for this endeavor, but some are exempt. Exemptions include those over the age of 60, those who are immunocompromised or live with someone who is immunocompromised, those who are pregnant, those who have an infant at home, and those who have anxiety issues.
Scott’s original order said that schools needed to be dismissed by Wednesday, but Martyn said that due to low attendance on Monday, the schools had decided not to open on Tuesday. Because so few students were in attendance on Monday, it was difficult to send work home with them, he said, but by midweek a system would be in place to send work home with students.
Lunch and breakfast will be made available to students during the dismissal, which has the potential to be prolonged. Dover students will be able to access bagged lunches beginning Tuesday, per Martyn.
“Families have been notified that they simply must contact the school by 9 am on the day they would like a meal and those meals will be ready to pick up between 11:30 am and 12:30 pm daily,” he said. “Families who may not be able to get to the school at that time of day may either arrange a different pickup time or request help with getting the meals delivered to their home.”
Wardsboro students can access grab-and-go meals at three locations: Newbrook Elementary School; Jamaica Village School; and Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School. Meals will be available between 11 am and 1 pm. Lunch will be provided, as will breakfast for the following day. Wardsboro Elementary School principal Tammy Bates said she was also working with families who may need their meals delivered.