YIR: Schools, colleges face a lot of tests | Local news

In 2021, the coronavirus pandemic continued to weigh heavily on everything related to education.

After a year of distance and hybrid learning, “recovery” and “re-engagement” were the buzzwords before the current school year.

The delta variant had other plans.

As COVID-19 cases escalated towards the end of the summer, schools across the state found themselves operating under pandemic protocols – this time while facing massive staff shortages.

But where the state provided detailed advice the year before, this fall it left most of the decisions to local school districts.

A two-page memo recommended wearing the mask for the first two weeks of school until 80% of eligible students are vaccinated. This recommendation was extended several times as case rates continued to rise in schools and in all communities.

Public health advocates and school officials have repeatedly pleaded with the Scott administration to take more direct action and reinstate a statewide mask mandate, but so far the Governor resisted.

In the absence of a statewide mask mandate, local school boards became battlegrounds for anti-mask rhetoric, which at times was heated. Ultimately, all school districts in the state except one, the Canaan School District, adopted universal masking.

With the state taking distance learning off the table this year, schools have had to mitigate the spread of the virus as best they can, sending students or sometimes entire classrooms to quarantine – not always with plans in place for students to learn at home.

In October, the state launched Test to Stay, a rapid testing program designed to reduce the need to send students home to quarantine. A number of school officials initially criticized the plan, arguing that they lacked the capacity to implement such a program due to a lack of staff.

Indeed, many schools operated with small teams as they struggled to fill vacant positions for substitute teachers, para-educators, bus drivers, guards and cafeteria workers. Staff shortages and teacher absences due to COVID have even forced some schools to close. This is exactly what the Maple Run Unified School District in Franklin County did on December 17.

The unexpected combination of delta and a lack of staff has also slowed efforts to meet the socio-emotional needs of students who have struggled under the pandemic. Schools statewide have reported an increase in disruptive and violent behavior.

One of the bright spots this year has been the massive influx of federal aid in the form of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Restoration Fund (ESSER), which has enabled schools to address issues of infrastructure and launch new programs to help students recover from the pandemic.

Now, with the emergence of the highly transmissible omicron variant in the state, school districts are still struggling to keep classrooms open and people indoors healthy while state officials place their hopes in tests, vaccines and local masking warrants as the best hope of curbing the spread of the virus.

Identity crisisWhat’s in a name? Quite a lot if you are part of the Castleton University community.

As the Vermont State Colleges System moved forward this year in its unification efforts that will bring together CU, Northern Vermont University, and Vermont Technical College into a single institution under the name Vermont State University, community members from the CU have repeatedly called for a slowdown in the process.

Faculty, students, alumni, and local business leaders have all expressed concerns in recent months that the merger, as presented so far, would reduce the brand and the market. CU’s identity, arguing that the school is the flagship of the state college system.

The pressure for consolidation emerged after the financial woes of the state college system peaked in early 2020, when decades of underfunding combined with rising costs and a declining population were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

A report released by a select legislative committee late last year recommended a significant increase in the state’s contribution to the state college system and the consolidation of the three schools.

In October, the VSCS Board of Trustees unanimously approved Vermont State University as the name of the new institution, which will launch in July 2023.

In November, however, CU professors sent a letter to the administrators, claiming that they had been excluded from the merger process and, as a result, “lost confidence in the transformation of the system as it has been managed at this time. day”.

Earlier this month, CU interim president Jonathan Spiro announced his retirement effective January 3, 2022, citing the merger as the impetus for his departure.

“As an employee of the board, I have a duty to carry out their policies. I am a very, very loyal employee. But as chairman of Castleton, I believe I have a duty to protect our thriving campus. And it’s very sad for me that these two duties have come into conflict, ”he said in a recent interview with The Herald.

VSCS officials argued that while change may be difficult, the end result will be worth it and lead to the long-term success of the system.

In an email to the Herald in November, Chancellor Sophie Zdatny said: “We are moving to a new university, so we need to approach things differently than ever before. Faculty and staff have put in a tremendous amount of work over the past year and we have structured the transformation to give teachers as much time as possible to work on the core spectrum of the program. It’s hard work to unify the programs, but it is essential to our core academic mission that we now strive to get it right. “


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