November 24, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

In this important memo, please find:

  • Review of new guidance from the state
  • Very important change to screening process

Yesterday, the Vermont Secretary of Education issued new guidance to schools related to the Governor’s updated Executive Order regarding multiple household gatherings. The state defines multiple household gatherings as those involving people who live in different homes. For more clarity on the guidance and the order please check out the following:

https://education.vermont.gov/sites/aoe/files/documents/edu-guidance-for-schools-related-to-limits-on-multi-household-social-gatherings.pdf

https://governor.vermont.gov/sites/scott/files/documents/ADDENDUM%208%20TO%20AMENDED%20AND%20RESTATED%20EXECUTIVE%20ORDER%2001-20_0.pdf

Specifically, the guidance and the Executive Order prohibit multiple households from participating in the same social gatherings, including group trips; gatherings related to ceremonies, holiday events, parties and celebrations; and sharing accommodations with anyone outside your household. Schools have been directed to consider these limits on multi-household social gatherings an extension of the state’s travel guidance, requiring quarantine. 

In the Governor’s press conference today, he made it clear that schools are required to include a question with our daily health screening protocols regarding multi-household gatherings and also required to direct people to quarantine in alignment with the state’s travel guidelines if they have participated in multiple household gatherings. This requirement means that all students and staff who have been involved in multiple household gatherings will be required to stay away from school for a quarantine period of 14 days, or 7 days with a negative COVID test. 

It is very important that MRUUSD families, students and staff be aware that the multiple household question will be added to our screening protocols on Monday, November 30th. 

Please be aware that each of our personal decisions and the responses to the new screening question can impact our collective ability to operate and access in-person school.

If you have any questions, please let me know.

Respectfully,

Dave

Note:    The Executive Order also states that individuals who live alone may gather with no more than one other household. Further, nothing in the Order requires anyone to remain in a dangerous, unhealthy or otherwise unsafe household; likewise, nothing in the Order prevents someone from taking in, housing, sheltering or assisting another individual or individuals to relieve them of a dangerous, unhealthy or otherwise unsafe household.


November 20, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

Last Friday I shared with you that I sensed things escalating in the COVID context and advised that we would all be wise to mentally and logistically plan for the possibility of remote learning on the horizon. Since then, we have seen several record-high days of new cases in Vermont, an increase in deaths (even locally in Rutland), and Vermont currently possesses the nation’s 2nd highest virus reproduction rate – which means that when a person contracts the virus in Vermont they have a likelihood of passing it on to more people than they would in every other state in the nation besides Maine.

I spoke with our board members in public session Wednesday evening to hear their thinking in order to help inform my own. The message I heard clearly from our Board was that we all want to keep students and staff in school as long as we can safely, and that when things begin trending in the wrong direction we should make a move. I completely agree with the Board’s sentiments and that thinking drives my decision-making. 

At this precise moment in time we are still doing things safely in our schools. By following the guidelines that we are required to follow, our students, support staff, teachers and administrators have been keeping our schools safe. We are proud of that effort. But, schools are not necessarily a refuge from society. They are instead a reflection of society. That means that everything that goes on in a given community eventually finds its way into our schools.

The best, most immediate examples of that are the current positive cases in schools in Rutland. It will not surprise you that our communities are interconnected in many ways. We have ties to those schools that create a tangled web of quarantine and potential virus spread that cause us to believe that we will not be able to keep the virus out of our schools for long. It is closing in on us every day. And, what ultimately may force us into remote learning might not be positive cases in schools. It might be the fact that critical school district employees will not be available for work due to required quarantines or positive cases in their immediate families that affect their availability.

The good news is that if the time comes to shift to remote learning we are very prepared. It is my hope that if that decision has to be made that we will have a little bit of lead time, but we cannot be sure of that depending on the dynamics of the situation. It continues to be important for all MRUUSD families to prepare for the possibility.

The bad news is that our ability to remain at school is now out of the schools’ hands. We will be able to remain with students and staff at school for as long as our community’s actions allow us to. We’ve all seen the Governor and other statewide authorities make very clear the importance of not socializing with people outside our households, not traveling during the holidays, and being as careful as we can be over the next few months with masks, distancing, and hand hygiene. To our community members who choose to disregard those expectations – we have noticed. Please consider a change of heart and behavior and hold yourself and your families accountable for protecting us all. 

Sacrifice for the common good is baked into the foundation of our nation. We should do our best to keep it that way, and in a local sense, community sacrifice for the common good gives us the best shot at remaining open for as long as possible. We are all tired of the pandemic, but it still has lots of energy to burn and our vigilance matters now more than ever. 

Under the best circumstances, you won’t hear from me again until the week after Thanksgiving. Hoping for that to be the case, I wish you and your immediate family a safe, healthy and happy holiday next week. 

Sincerely,

Dave


November 13, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

I must be very frank with you as I send this message. Exactly 8 months ago, on Friday March 13th, the Governor held a press conference during which many of us in educational leadership expected that schools might be closed due to a pandemic that was starting to surge across the country. That did not happen at that press conference, but within two days that decision had been made, and our schools were closed to in-person instruction on Monday March 16th.

Regretfully, as I am typing this message the mood in the air feels much the same as it did precisely 8 months ago. We do know a great deal more about the virus now. We know how to try to limit its impact. And yet, it is still accelerating across the country and New England and Vermont seem to have lost the insulation we enjoyed for much of the summer. In our own communities we have friends and neighbors who continue to gather in groups, refuse to wear masks (or wear then properly), and are of the belief that there is no real threat. 

My message to you today is this: Because of where we are right now, we have no idea what happens next, and we need to be prepared for things to possibly move quickly.

Some districts across the state have already made decisions to return to remote learning or are contemplating it right now. Some school boards are pressuring their superintendents to make that decision immediately. That has not happened here yet, but it is a conversation that I intend to have with our school board to help inform my decision-making. If we find ourselves back in a remote learning scenario, we are absolutely aware of the impacts on families from the standpoint of child care and work availability. We do understand very clearly what it means to our community to not have our students physically in school. 

In terms of our thinking at this specific moment:

  • We want to keep our students and staff physically in school as long as we possibly can – as long as we can do it safely without risk.
  • If we do have to return to remote learning our students and staff are very ready and know very well what to do in that situation.
  • There is no telling what steps may be taken at a state level with regard to in-person schooling or in what ways the Health Guidelines that we have to follow might be further revised to be even safer, affecting the way that schools operate in-person. 
  • It would be very wise for all of us to mentally and practically prepare for the possibility that a window of remote learning is on the horizon. I’m not sure how fast we are traveling toward that horizon, but the conditions around us are definitely moving in that direction. Thinking about our own personal arrangements in schools and homes is timely work to do right now. We strongly encourage you to plan for the possibility.
  • Please take seriously, for your own health and that of your children, families and neighbors, the directives coming out of state government regarding travel and quarantines. Please understand that decisions you make as an individual or family regarding travel have a direct impact on access to school due to required quarantines. Please avoid groups. Please wear your masks and stay distanced from people who are not in your immediate family. Please remind your children of the importance of these actions. Please do everything you can so that we can manage these emerging circumstances as best as possible.

Thank you,

Dave


November 6, 2020

Mill River Schools Families, Faculty and Staff –

Please see the letter linked below that outlines important considerations for us all as the winter holidays approach, particularly around the topic of travel.

This information has been shared with us by the Vermont Department of Health and is very important to consider, as different decisions can affect access to school and the workplace in different ways.

Sincerely,

Dave

Community Travel Letter 11.6.2020.pdf 


October 29, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

Two updates for you today regarding:

  • Travel
  • Snow/Weather Days

Please be reminded that if travel occurs to areas that require quarantine upon return that your student will be required to follow all expectations from the State of Vermont in terms of quarantine and access to school. As the holidays approach, we will all be faced with personal decisions in that regard, and those decisions make this holiday season challenging for us all. 

Please exercise caution as we all work together to protect our school community and the broader community. It is appreciated.

The weather tomorrow morning looks to be a bit interesting. Here’s the big picture on weather days for this year:

  • We do plan to call “remote learning days” on bad weather days when we can reasonably do so with advance notice. Advance notice is necessary because we’d like all students and staff to have what they need including time to prepare as best as possible. We expect that those types of decisions will be made by approximately 2pm at the latest the day prior. That will occur when storms are coming that are all but guaranteed to be a problem.
  • For days like tomorrow, we will have to rely on the possibility of a “traditional snow day” call if something happens. There are so many variables – how wet the snow is, whether road crews and plows and sand/salt are ready, and the actual conditions on the ground at decision-time as we project the impacts into the morning commute.
  • In terms of the process for those morning-of decisions, at about 4am we are on the phone with road commissioners to receive ongoing reports. By 4:30 I am also connecting with all of the surrounding superintendents to discuss their circumstances and keep watching the online projections as they develop. The goal is usually to have made a decision by 5:15, and if that decision requires communication to families and staff to have that communication go out around 5:30. There are always exceptions, but that’s the general approach.

So…when it comes to tomorrow, our MRU students and staff are already remote. They are all set. Elementary families, if you do not hear from me by around 5:30 assume that all is normal. That communication takes place through phone and email, so if you do not receive the School Messenger phone call please check with your school’s administrative assistant to ensure that we have the proper phone information in the system for you.

Thanks,

Dave


October 16, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

We are at the stage in our return to in-person planning where you are likely hearing a good deal from your individual schools. If that is not the case, please reach out to your school office directly.

Otherwise – I will keep this email very brief. Two key topics today:

1. Remote Learning Option

2. Meals Information

Our survey closed yesterday for families to identify whether they wish to have students remain in remote learning when we return in-person. Roughly 8% of our students will be remaining in remote learning under the parameters shared with you previously.

Teachers, principals and schools are connecting now (or already have) with those families to ensure that necessary details are in place.

One question I have received from a few families which is worth sharing is this one: If my child returns in-person but something changes, either with our family situation or concerns that I may have, can I remove them from in-person learning and revert back to remote? It’s a great question. The answer is straightforward. Yes. Please keep reading for full context.

The Safe and Health Schools Guidelines that we are required to follow strictly define the social distancing that we have to maintain. Classrooms are being set up according to those rules. Once those classrooms are set, any changes in terms of increasing numbers of students can have dramatic impacts to class locations and even how we assign staff. So, class configurations need to remain relatively static. This is the reason why we have asked remote learning families to commit to at least January 25th to keep classroom arrangements stable. Adding students to a class can be a problem. Removing them is not a problem

So – it can be feasible for a family to decide to stop in-person learning and revert to remote learning if needed. If that occurs, it would be under the parameters of how the remote learning system is working and with a commitment to remain remote at least until January 25th.

Put another way – we can make it work for your child to start in-person and go back to remote. We cannot make it work to start remote and go back to in-person, at least until that January 25th date is approaching when we will be recalibrating to see where we are and design accordingly.

With students returning to in-person learning, an update on meals access is necessary:

Everyone:

  1. ALL meals for students will continue to be FREE, whether in person OR picked up
  2. Meals will continue to be available for pick up at the following sites:

                  MRU – Monday & Thursday: 7:00 am to 1:00 pm AND 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm

                  TMS  – Monday & Thursday: 8:00 am to 2:00 pm

                  SMS – Monday & Thursday: 7:00 am to 12:00 pm

For Elementary Students:

  1. Meals will be available daily for students who are learning in person at school starting 10/19/20
  2. Meals for elementary remote learners will still be available for pickup at MRU, TES, and SMS according to the above schedule.  Families can pick up at any of these sites.

For MRU Students:

  1. Students receiving IEP services at MRU will continue to have meals available to them in person from 10/19 – 11/2/20
  2. Starting 11/2/20, meals will be available on the days that students are in attendance (Monday/Thursday and Tuesday/Friday) 
  3. Students that attend Monday/Thursday will be able to take three meals home with them on Mondays to cover days that they are remote
  4. Students that attend Tuesday/Friday will be able to take three meals home with them on Tuesdays to cover days that they are remote

Have a great weekend, and we’re looking forward to seeing our PreK-4th students in person next Monday!

Dave


October 12th, 2020

Mill River Schools Families,

This is email is only intended for families who are choosing to have their student(s) remain in remote learning when in-person learning resumes in the MRUUSD.

All families whose child(ren) will be returning in-person can ignore this email.

If your child(ren) will be remaining in remote learning, please complete the survey linked below. DUE DATE IS THURSDAY 10/15/2020 at 3:00 PM.

After this data has been collected on 10/15/2020, families opting for remote learning can expect to hear from their specific schools directly on Friday 10/16/2020.

Thank you,

Dave

Remote Learning Survey Link

https://forms.gle/zKSo9wwmdv5orKCV6


October 9, 2020

12:00 pm

Mill River Schools Community,

Please review the attached document. It is very long, but has extensive information about our plans for the return to in-person learning in the MRUUSD.

Thanks,

Dave

MRUUSD-Reopening-Details-10.9.2020.pdf


October 2, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

This is essentially a repeat of the email shared with you on Monday of this week. A decision regarding return to in-person school and associated details will be shared next Friday, 10/9/2020.

Please take a few minutes to complete the survey linked below if you have not already. It will be remain open until 3:00 pm today.

The survey is intended to gather information about your intentions for your child(ren) when the MRUUSD does return to in-person instruction.

This survey does not indicate a commitment on your part. A follow-up survey to be issued the week of 10/12/2020 will seek a commitment and will provide more detail to assist you in that decision-making.

Thank you,

Dave

Survey Link:

https://forms.gle/JYNcsxuTdikMggEi6


September 28, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

Please take a few minutes to complete the survey linked below. It will be open until Friday 10/2/2020 at 9:00am.

The survey is intended to gather information about your intentions for your child(ren) when the MRUUSD returns to in-person instruction.

This survey does not indicate a commitment on your part. A follow-up survey to be issued the week of 10/12/2020 will seek a commitment and will provide more detail to assist you in that decision-making.

Thank you,

Dave

Survey Link:

https://forms.gle/JYNcsxuTdikMggEi6


September 25, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

Today’s update includes information about reopening considerations, travel, and student health.

Reopening Considerations

We are in the midst of contemplating scenarios for a return to in-person instruction for our students and staff. We believe that the decision to open the school year remotely was absolutely the right decision to maintain our student and staff safety, but that it is important for us to identify paths to bring at the very least our youngest learners back to the in-person environment if virus conditions remain stable around us. When thinking about this decision, there are a few baseline assumptions that play into it:

  1. Continued stable or improving virus data 
  2. Availability of staff to deliver in-person instruction and ability to implement health guidelines.
  3. In-person instruction continuing to utilize weekly module-based planning and instructional delivery, allowing for an easy shift into remote learning if/when needed
  4. Remote Option: Families of students who are returning to in-person instruction having the choice to remain fully remote for a determined amount of time with the understanding that weekly modules will continue to be delivered and that access to teachers may be limited as compared to the current remote model, since our focus would be shifting to in-person instruction. 

The concept currently being contemplated would focus on phasing in the return of students starting with our youngest elementary students and working our way up to our oldest students in a prescribed fashion over time. The timeline for communication and information about a decision remains set for October 9th. Prior to that, principals have been and will be seeking feedback from families about how the remote experience is progressing and what supports families will need either way: if we remain remote or transition to in-person learning. 

Early next week I will be sharing a survey with families that will asks for information about which families, upon a return to in-person instruction, would still be seeking to keep their children learning remotely. That information will help us to develop our overall approach. The survey responses next week will not be a commitment on your part.

But, another planned survey to be issued after the October 9th decision date will ask for a commitment from families that choose to have their children remain learning remotely. That survey would be accompanied by solid details on the differences between the remote and in-person options in order to assist families in making decisions.

Final note on this topic: Whatever form of in-person learning is ultimately implemented, we will be prepared for the likelihood that a change in virus conditions locally or a change in statewide status as determined by the Agency of Education and Department of Health could require us to close down in-person instruction in the district or see schools closed to in-person instruction statewide as they were last spring. We do believe that there is a strong likelihood that this may happen, and the solid remote learning foundation we have built this fall will serve our students well if/when that becomes a reality. We maintain hope that it won’t happen, but we will be more prepared for it because of the approach we took to start this school year. I am sharing this with you now in order to reinforce the reality that returning to in-person school, when it occurs, does not mean that the threat of school closure is gone. In fact, the colder the weather gets the more that threat will increase. Please keep that in mind as you make family decisions and arrangements in the coming months.

Travel Considerations

First, please read this article from today’s Rutland Herald that discusses our neighbors to the west.

Slate Valley Article

Next, please take a look at the map available on the VT Agency of Commerce and Community Development website that outlines areas where travel is restricted and subsequent quarantine in VT is required.

Travel Map

This is not much of an issue for us at this exact moment with most of our students and staff working remotely, but it has in fact popped for us even under our limited in-person circumstances. If/when we return to in-person learning as our primary means of school, awareness and compliance with these state expectations will be even more important for us. Please pay very close attention to your family travel decisions moving forward, and make sure that you are accessing up to date information before you make travel decisions that might trigger a mandatory quarantine. 

Student Health

Please keep in mind that the ultimate dynamics of the health guidelines that we must follow to work through the pandemic are as follows:

  • Facial covering
  • Social distance
  • Hand hygiene
  • Stay home when sick

These will continue to be very important for the foreseeable future.  In terms of staying home when sick, when we do return to in-person learning please stay on top of reporting your student’s attendance in accordance with the school’s protocols. The pandemic has required us to dedicate considerable staff time and energy to management, follow-up and communication regarding students and staff absences due to illness in order to keep our data ready and organized for state contact tracing when it is ultimately needed. The complexity of that process requires that we have clean data at the front end. This means, on the family side, punctuality and accurate communication is critical to us keeping our schools as healthy as possible when we do return.

It is necessary for you to be fully aware that under the health guidelines students who do not pass health screenings are not permitted to enter the school bus or school, with no exceptions. Students who have to leave school with symptoms that match the very long list of possible COVID symptoms will be sent home without debate. We are required to be very, very strict in these matters and will follow the guidelines that we have to meet to the letter in this regard. The best course of action if your child has any symptoms of illness at all is to keep them home, contact your physician, communicate with the school, and follow the guidelines provided by the school in terms of how long your child must remain at home under their specific circumstances.

I hope that this information is helpful, and that you have a fantastic weekend.

Sincerely,

Dave


September 18, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

Today’s update focuses on three areas for your information:

1. Reminder (locations and times) for meals pickup.

2. MRU Sports Status Update

3. School Reopening Decision Timeline and Considerations

—–

This is a review of previous information received. Our meals pickup opportunities for all individuals aged 18 and under in the community continue to operate.

Pickup locations and times are as follows:

MRU – Monday & Thursday: 7:00 am to 1:00 pm AND 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm

TMS  – Monday & Thursday: 8:00 am to 2:00 pm

SMS – Monday & Thursday: 7:00 am to 12:00 pm

Families are able to pick up at any of the locations regardless of where children attend school in our district. Example – you have a child at SMS and a child at MRU. You can pickup up for both at either location. Please be advised that we do have to document names of students that you are picking up for in order to meet the state and federal requirements.

—–

MRU Fall Sports are underway currently with teams practicing and coaches and athletes following strict health protocols as outlined by the Agency of Education and Department of Health. Competitions are not able to occur until state leadership makes the determination that schools are considered to be at Step 3 of the state’s COVID status designations. Once that designation is announced we anticipate that there will be perhaps a one week notice before it goes into effect. 

In the context of sports and our status as a school district that started the school year in remote learning, MRU will not be permitting spectators to attend athletic contests. The two schools in southern VT that share the remote learning / no spectator status are Mill River Union and Mount Anthony Union. We have intentionally scheduled more away events for our teams in order to provide athletic parents options for watching events. We will also be live streaming our home events and will have PEG-TV on site in order to make our home athletic contests accessible to view.

Our school board did receive contact from a few community members about the “no spectator” decision and had a public discussion about the topic during Wednesday night’s board meeting. A motion was made and voted upon, and through the outcome of that vote the “no spectator” decision made by our administrators was upheld by the board. 

—–

The reopening of in-person school decision is on our radar daily as we look ahead to that decision. You may recall that my communication issued on July 31 informing the community of the remote learning decision indicated that I was targeting the date of October 9, 2020 for a decision about our status for November. The purpose of the October 9th date is to provide families and teachers with ample lead time to prepare for whatever November may bring. We know that everything about school in a pandemic is more difficult for everyone, and time to prepare is important.

As that date approaches, there are several factors I am monitoring to help provide background information:

  • Rutland county cases
  • Statewide cases
  • Surrounding district experiences in various in-person, remote and hybrid formats
  • Health/nursing data from our in-person operations
  • Attendance data for students and staff from our in-person operations
  • Availability of bus drivers and custodians

While these are not the only factors considered, they hopefully give you a sense of the type of lens being applied to the considerations. My commitment to you is that I will communicate with you weekly (generally on Fridays) and follow the timelines that have been established for the decision.

—–

Thank you,

Dave


September 4, 2020

Mill River Schools Community Members,

This will be the final update from my office before the school year officially begins. I do hope that you have a peaceful and relaxing Labor Day weekend coming up. I am excited for our students and staff – there is a palpable energy in the air that we all love about the start of school. Even though this school year is beginning in very unique ways, we are ready to get things started.

I’d like to thank you for your patience as we have navigated the path to September 8th. We know that there will be more bumps ahead, but we also know that the COVID experience will eventually come to an end. As you know, our goal all along has been to be as safe and strategic as possible about how the school year commences and plays out over time.

Important Meals Information

We are able to continue providing meals for all individuals aged 18 and under in our communities. 

Next week (Labor Day and the first week of school) pickups will be on TUESDAY and THURSDAY.

After next week pickups will revert to MONDAY and THURSDAY.

Pickup locations and times have changed and are as follows:

MRU – 7:00 am to 1:00 pm AND 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm

TMS  – 8:00 am to 2:00 pm

SMS – 7:00 am to 12:00 pm

Families are able to pick up at any of the locations regardless of where child(ren) your attend(s) school. Example – you have a child at SMS and a child at MRU. You can pickup up for both at either location. Please be advised that we do have to document names of students that you are picking up for in order to meet the state and federal requirements.

Have a great weekend,

Dave


September 1, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

We are continuing to work on the design for our meals access for students for the start of the school year. 

The process is complicated by federal and state regulations that play out in different ways based on the time of year, system of delivery, locations, etc. We wish it were simpler, but it is not. Things are happening at the federal and state level as I type this email, and I believe that in the next day or so we will have much better clarity for our families on what the system will look like, at least until December 31, 2020. We believe that the shifts that are occurring will be very positive.

We are envisioning (based on recent state and federal developments) to be able to continue with a model that looks very much like this summer’s model.

We are hoping to be able to add pickup locations at SMS and TMS in addition to MRU. Times TBD.

We anticipate that Monday/Thursday will continue to be the days for pickup, with an exception next week due to the holiday on Monday.

We believe, and are working to confirm, that we will continue to be able to provide meals for all residents aged 18 and under who live in our communities.

Details are not firm yet, but I will inform you as soon as they are. Thank you for your patience and understanding as these late changes will hopefully provide us with more flexible opportunities to provide meals for the young people in our district.

Sincerely,

Dave


August 28, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

This week’s update will be brief. Topics covered include:

1. Meals

2. Prep for Start of the Year

3. Elementary Meet & Greet FYIs

4. Childcare Resource

We are still sorting out details related to federal regulations for meal provision for students once the school year begins. We still envision continuing twice weekly pickup opportunities and providing free meals to students eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch. Meals will also be made available for other families (those not eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch) who choose to purchase them. We anticipate that meals will be able to be picked up at MRU, SMS and TMS. As soon as details are very firm they will be shared with you.

The last day for our summer meal pickup program (available to all children aged 18 and under in our community) will be Thursday September 3rd.

Our school district employees have been hard at work this week engaged in training and preparation for the start of the school year. If you have specific questions about the school your child attends please contact the school directly either by phone or email to the principal or office administrative assistant. We still have a handful of employee positions in the district that we are working to fill and do hope to have those settled sooner rather than later.

Elementary schools are all planning some form of small, carefully-managed, outdoor meet & greet opportunities for students, families and teachers toward the end of next week. For families who will be participating in those, please be aware that we will be conducting health screenings as required by the health guidelines we need to follow for all participants. This will include having temperatures taken and COVID-exposure questions asked. Please arrive slightly earlier than the scheduled time for those sessions in order to allow for adequate screening time. Specific information on those activities will be provided by your school principals.

The Rutland Recreation Program has made information available to the community for those who are interested in childcare options for the start of the school year (see attachment below). We will continue to share this type of information with you when we receive it, generally through email and social media.

Rutland Rec Program.pdf 

Have a great weekend,

Dave


August 21, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

Today’s update focuses on two topics:

  • Lunch/Meals provision once school begins
  • FYI – Faculty and Staff schedule overview beginning next week

We continue to provide meals available for pickup at MRU (front door) on Mondays and Thursday from 7:00am-5:00pm. This will continue through the summer with Thursday, September 3rd as the last summer meals pickup day. Those meals are available for all district children aged 18 and under.

Once the school years begins for students (September 8th) we will continue to have meals available during our Remote Learning startup. We may follow the same schedule for pickup in terms of days of the week (currently Monday/Thursday). We may need to adjust the times due to availability of staff (TBD). The locations will decentralize, and we are forecasting that meals will be available for pickup still at MRU, but also at Shrewsbury Mountain School and Tinmouth Mountain School. Meals will be free for students that are eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch (this application is available through your school office with registration materials – please complete it, as it is helpful to the district in terms of meal eligibility as well as other funding sources from the federal government). Students who are not eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch can still pick up meals, but they will have to be paid for by the family. Costs and other details will be publicized as soon as they are available. It is a fair assumption that various choices and food selections will not be available in this meal provision process. The details around this process involve federal and state regulations, and we are working through those now so that we can provide you with clear and accurate details when the time comes.

For your information only, our faculty and staff are returning to school next week to begin official preparations for the student start on September 8th. Most of the work is remote or virtual, but there will be some in-person sessions depending on the location, topic and group size/dynamics.

The general schedule of employee events during the next two weeks is as follows:

August 24th        New Teacher Orientation & District Overview

August 25th        New Teacher Orientation – Principal & Mentor Mtgs                            

August 27th        District Opening Inservice      

August 28th        Staff Trainings

August 31st        Staff Trainings                  

September 1st    School-based Meetings and Training                        

September 2nd   School-based Teacher Prep & Possible Student Orientation            

September 3rd    School-based Teacher Prep & Possible Student Orientation            

September 4th    School-based Teacher Prep & Possible Student Orientation   

September 7th    Labor Day Holiday

September 8th    First Day of School for Students   

As always, if you have questions please feel free to direct them to the principal who might best answer them or send them my way.

Have a good weekend,

Dave


August 14, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

Today’s update includes a few details that have emerged for this week and a list of questions and responses regarding our Remote Learning decision-making that may be of interest to you.

1. We are contemplating in the next week soliciting volunteers from the community that may be interested in supporting students as unpaid, volunteer tutors during our remote learning period of school. The concept we are working on would involve the district generating a contact list of willing community volunteers that we would be able to certify have passed background checks and review against the child sexual abuse registry. We would not be able to vouch for the quality or availability of any volunteer in this capacity. Responsibility for contacting an individual and making arrangements would lie with families. The process of generating this information will take some time due to the background check process, but as soon as we have something available to share we will do so.

2. You should be receiving information from your local school and principal regularly at this time regarding how things are solidifying for the start of the school year. If you are not receiving that information, or information that answers your questions, please reach out immediately to your principal at the following email addresses:

CES – fvalastro@millriverschools.org

MRU – tweideman@millriverschools.org

SMS – jruck@millriverschools.org

TMS – mfitzgerald-riker@millriverschools.org

WES – dbetts@millriverschools.org

3. The state issued its guidance regarding fall sports for middle and high schools this week. For those who are interested, MRU leadership is meeting with coaches today (Friday) and will be sharing information with students and families and beginning athlete registration next week. Sports are occurring, but with significant restrictions. Please contact kmaniery@millriverschools.org with questions specific to MRU athletics.

4. Related to our IEP students who will be accessing services in-person starting 9/8/2020, the determination has been made that those services for all students who are accessing them will be based out of Mill River Union. This affords us the best scenario to organize our students, staff, and safety and health protocols well. For families who are involved with that, you can expect continued communication from our special education leadership on those details.

5. You may be interested in a follow-up set of FAQs related to our Remote Learning decision. That information is presented here for your reference. It is also attached as a pdf to this email and will be posted on our website with our other Reopening information.

Remote Learning FAQ, v2

8/14/2020

What data, research, and evidence has been used by the district to aid in making the decision to implement remote learning? Why are we the only district in the state not offering in person options? 

There are conflicting studies, variable reporting, political maneuverings regarding reopening, and legitimate concerns about the health and well being of students and staff. We are not the only district in the state engaging in a remote start or a version of a remote start. We believe that districts in the state may find themselves thrust into remote learning sooner rather than later by virus conditions. We intend to be prepared for that, by starting conservatively and remotely.

What practices at other academic institutions have been researched and analyzed in order to develop a high-quality, remote instruction plan for implementation within our district? 

Our in-house curriculum leaders, led by Dr. Andrew Jones, are designing our professional development systems as we navigate how to best provide instruction statewide in the pandemic. Locally, our work administratively since March has been focused on how to best deliver and design remote learning options, given that we were executing a hybrid system from March-June and planning for a hybrid instructional environment for August, which would have seen our students in grades 7-12 in school two days per week and at home three days per week. Teacher training time at the end of last school year and seven days this coming year before school begins are and will be focused in this arena. Principals and teacher teams are working now to design the details so that solid information can be shared with parents, sooner rather than later. On the whole, our decision to open remotely was made and shared prior to the start of August for the specific purpose of allowing families and educators all of the time they would need to plan and prepare for this undertaking. 

Has the district consulted directly with the Vermont Department of Health or Agency of Education on the decision to begin the academic year in remote learning? Were we advised by the Vermont Department of Health to begin the school year in remote learning?

The state, through the Agency of Education, has indicated clearly that school districts have the option to choose among three different “instructional dispositions” at the start of the school year. Each of those options is considered by the state to be valid and acceptable. Those include Fully Remote, Hybrid, and In-Person. Our decision after careful consideration of all state health and safety guidelines, state decision-making guidelines, and state regulations and statutes, was to choose the acceptable disposition of Fully Remote.

Regarding the Department of Health, our obligation is to consult with VDH when we have a case or cases of COVID-19 in schools that are already open to in-person instruction. The “instructional disposition” that we choose as a district as the way to start the school year is not linked or tied to VDH consultation. This decision-making is in alignment with statute, regulations, and the guidance issued to school districts by the Agency of Education.

When we are open to in-person instruction and face a COVID-19 case (or cases) internally, our superintendent will consult with the VDH as required, hear their feedback, and make a decision about closing a school or all schools. This process is directly addressed in the guidance issued to school districts.

How is the district providing an equal education to the children who will be attempting to learn via distance learning on electronic devices, with no in person interactions with either classmates or teachers — when other elementary age students throughout Vermont are being afforded the opportunity for in person instruction? How will remote learning provide children with substantially equal educational opportunities compared to elementary children in other districts throughout the state that are choosing to offer in person instruction options?

Answering this question requires an assumption that different delivery models are inherently unequal. 

If we do extend the logic that different equates to unequal, we must acknowledge that some districts are bringing back all of their students in person. Most school districts in Vermont are utilizing a hybrid (part-remote, part in-person) system. We are opening remotely. 

We do believe that in-person school is indeed better for instructional purposes than other options. But, there is great risk that an in-person start falls apart with one case of COVID-19 in schools and that schools will be thrust quickly and without preparation into remote learning. There is also the reality that pandemic-driven in-person instruction with masks, social distancing, enhanced sanitation, health screenings, etc. will feel very far from the expected typical school experience and may do more harm to students than good, both instructionally and emotionally. 

Going further, we might assert that the second best option instructionally for students is fully-remote learning, which we are utilizing under these circumstances due to health and safety, consistency of delivery purposes, lessened risk, and the inherent need for systemic flexibility required in a pandemic. 

An argument can then be made that the least good option instructionally and for consistency’s sake could be the hybrid environment, which most of the school districts in the state are utilizing, due to variable patterns and systems of engagement for students, educators, and families.. 

Following this logic and the assumption of inequality inherent in this question, every district that approaches this problem differently in Vermont is potentially creating a situation that someone, somewhere might choose to interpret as substantially unequal.

We do believe that the path we have chosen is the safest, most stable, and most productive instructional choice to make for our students under pandemic circumstances in order to safely get to the desired in-person instructional model sooner rather than later, and to be able to stay in that disposition when it does arrive.

Why was the decision to begin the school year via remote learning made PRIOR to the planned survey on August 3 of families preferences for in person vs remote instruction? Why did you not afford families the opportunity to respond to the survey, and then consider those responses before making this decision?

We were planning for a hybrid instructional environment as was forecasted in the email communications received by parents from the district. That was based on most of our students being in-person at school. Knowing that some parents would not want their children to return in-person, a survey was planned for August 3rd to identify those overall numbers and desired locations of students in order for teachers to be able to plan for who would actually be where and figure out how to deliver instruction both in-person and remotely based on student needs. The purpose of that survey was not going to be to help the district make a decision about in-person vs. remote. The purpose was going to be to figure out who was staying at home when others returned.

As circumstances continued to unfold nationally and locally, our decision made at the end of July negated the need for a survey to identify who wanted to stay home, as all of our students (with the exception of IEP students who choose to access in-person IEP supports) will be served remotely to start the school year. Once the school year is up and running and we continue to focus on a return to in-person instruction, we will likely issue that originally-planned August 3rd survey at some point in order to assess who will be sending students to school for in-person instruction and to help us to navigate the structural and staffing aspects of that information. 

What steps will be taken to address my children’s social, cognitive, and behavioral development? How will the teachers evaluate and assist my children in these developmental areas when they are unable to observe my children in a classroom environment for several hours each day?

Our principals are currently working with teachers and counselors to ensure that the fabric that connects school and family is solid during our remote learning time. Predictable synchronous learning sessions, regular scheduled check-ins with students and families, opportunities for additional counseling as needed, and intended parent workshops (online) focused on how to best navigate online learning are a part of what we are working on to address these needs. As is always the case, if parents/guardians identify needs in their own children related to social, cognitive, academic, and behavioral development, we ask that parents share information with us so that we can help and assist with the resources we have available to us. We also anticipate that children’s parents/guardians will be making their own family and social-based efforts to attend to their children’s social, cognitive and behavioral functioning.

What are my education tax dollars being used for — specifically in regards to my children’s distance learning experience? Will funds still be allocated to the maintenance and operation of the buildings, grounds, vehicles, non-educator staff and/or anything else that my children will not benefit from during their required remote learning tenure? Will the funds be utilized to provide my children with the instructional materials, classroom supplies, and electronic devices necessary to facilitate their education at home?

Remote learning overall costs slightly less to operate than fully in-person learning. The reason for that is that operating costs of buildings are lessened (lights, heat during the winter, etc.) and less diesel fuel and personnel costs for transportation are utilized. But, education in Vermont tends to have more than 80% of its costs tied up in personnel and benefit costs, and nearly all of our employees work under contracts which are fixed for the school year. All of our employees,  in every position in the district, will be held accountable and kept responsible for earning the dollars that they are paid according to union agreements and individual contracts.

We are entering a fiscal crisis statewide due to decreased revenue during COVID-19 that will dramatically impact budget-building for FY22 and potentially beyond. There are significant shortfalls in the state education fund that have not yet been remedied. This means that every dollar we save (including hiring freezes and utilizing attrition when we can with retirements and resignations, plus operations savings overall) will be able to be applied to future budgets in order to lessen the impact of the pandemic fiscal crisis on our taxpayers. In terms of materials and resources for learning – we will work with each family that indicates inaccessibility to the internet and support them in those efforts. We are inventorying, assembling, and readying devices for appropriate distribution to students who will need them. We do not intend to thrust additional costs on families to maintain the infrastructure of the school environment. Further, we anticipate that the extra costs that we incur as a district due to COVID-19 will generally be reimbursable from federal COVID relief funds.

Remote Learning FAQ, v2.pdf 


August 7, 2020

Mill River Schools Community Members,

Following our announcement last week and FAQ document released on Monday, I do not have any significant new updates to share with you today.

What I would like to do is reiterate our commitment to share information with you when it becomes available regarding resources that may be of assistance to families. We share these via our social media feeds and school-based email lists when we get them, but I’d like to present information collectively for you in this format as well. 

If you are ever looking for information from previous emails I have shared, you can find those on our website at this link: http://millriverschools.org/reopening/ .

Childcare Supports:

Child Care Support Services 

88 Park Street, Rutland 

747-0033- referral

773-4365- financial assistance 

747-0030- specialized child care 

Resources from DCF re: Childcare:

https://mailchi.mp/state/updates-from-the-child-development-division-school-age-child-care-in-the-fall-892601?e=e4c0b3afca

Link to Article re: Local Facebook Group for Supports:

https://www.rutlandherald.com/news/covid19/facebook-group-helps-families-find-child-care-options/article_2c001a5f-c0f1-5e37-acf7-501d4c288342.html

Regarding individual school plans and expectations for opening the school year, you should already be hearing from school principals in some capacity setting the stage. If you are not seeing emails from principals, please reach out to them directly to ensure that your information is correct in our system for communication. I will continue to communicate with you on Fridays as we approach the start to the school year, and more frequently as appropriate.

Principal Contacts:

CES – fvalastro@millriverschools.org

MRU – tweideman@millriverschools.org

SMS – jruck@millriverschools.org

TMS – mfitzgerald-riker@millriverschools.org

WES – dbetts@millriverschools.org

Thank you, and have a great weekend.

Dave


August 3, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

The purpose of this email is to provide updated information in the form of a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) list regarding our decision to begin the school year in Remote Learning for the months of September and October.

Before getting to the FAQ, please be aware that previous communication this summer indicated that today, 8.3.2020, was the day we would be surveying families regarding preferences related to in-person vs. remote learning. The announcement we made last week that we would begin the school year in Remote Learning has removed the need to send that survey at this time.

However, there will be a time after the school year has begun when we will be seeking that information from you in addition to further information from you about transportation needs. The reason for that survey, when the time comes, will be to prepare for our eventual return to in-person learning.

Thank you for your attention to this email and the questions and answers that follow.

Dave

MRUUSD Remote Learning FAQs 

August 3, 2020


Have you given any thought to working families and the situation we are all in?

Absolutely, we have. The impact of the pandemic on all working families has been at the forefront of our minds every day since March 15, when the Governor issued orders to close schools. Every day since then has involved considering and feeling the impact of our situation and decisions on students, staff, and families. Making a decision about opening schools back up to in-person instruction vs. staying in remote learning was very difficult, and presented very challenging dynamics regardless of the decision made. Our goal has been to provide accurate information to families with as much lead time as possible in order to allow families time to consider and make arrangements as needed. We do know that this is extremely difficult to manage, no matter how we approach it.

What am I supposed to do about childcare?

This is the hardest question to answer. We simply do not know. We are watching for opportunities that we will be able to pass on to district families that can provide support in our area. We are committed to sharing anything legitimate that we come across that may be helpful for our district families. Childcare is very important to us, for our community and for our employees. This is the reason we expanded our PreK programs last year and offered expanded childcare offerings at that time. We know that it matters. But, the school district is simply not able to solve this problem at this time. It is our hope that employers in the area will identify and consider this issue with their employees and develop means to better support their employees, if possible. As mentioned previously, we will be watching and staying attentive to anything that develops that will be helpful, and are truly sorry for the difficulties that are created by this situation.

What about childcare for essential workers?

This question connects in some ways to the previous childcare question. Regarding essential workers, the information we have received from the state indicates that status as an essential worker was largely tied to the emergency response period of the COVID-19 era during the spring, when it was most important to support the healthcare system and ensure that it was not overburdened and that healthcare staff were available to respond in the emergency period. As a state we are no longer in that emergency period, and the statewide expectation and perceived obligation to provide care for children of essential workers is not a dynamic that is in play at this time. This does not make us feel any better about the ways that we know remote learning impacts families with parents in positions that were deemed essential in the spring. It is still a burden that we know that our families feel. 

Why can we go to restaurants, schools, groceries, etc. but it is not OK to have our kids back in school? The hospital is doing fine, as well.

The simplest answer to this question is that a day at school for a child is remarkably different from a visit to the grocery or a restaurant. The risk of prolonged interactions, proximity that cannot be avoided, and the sheer magnitude of numbers of individuals in schools creates different challenges. What we have seen is that circumstances that bring large numbers of people together indoors, even with precautions taken, result in cases of COVID-19 emerging. Many of our employees are vulnerable, and many of our students live with people who are vulnerable, as well. Comparisons between hospitals and schools in the COVID context (or in any context) miss the mark. Hospitals are places of extreme cleanliness with standardized protocols for managing hygiene and health. Hospitals are professional healthcare workplaces that are built upon these concepts. Schools are filled with children and the adults who are trying to help them learn. Expecting that we would have the ability in schools to maintain a level of safety and cleanliness in line with hospitals, where health care professionals engage in that type of work daily, is unrealistic.

What about the science? Physicians are saying kids 10 and under should be back in-person at school?

Some (not all) doctors are saying that we should be focused on bringing students aged PreK through 10 years old back to in-person school. Some studies support that stance. Others contradict that approach. As you know, our plan for in-person and hybrid learning that will be implemented when we do return to in-person instruction accounts for exactly that. However, that push for children up to 10 years old to be in school is based on the belief that students in that age bracket do not carry or spread the virus the way that students aged 11 and up do. The dialogue supporting this belief has not yet addressed the inherent vulnerabilities of the staff members who are working with those younger students. Additionally, the push for younger students to return to school in-person is also based on the concept that the social and emotional side of school will be restored. To the contrary, we believe that with the current health and safety restrictions involving facial coverings, social distancing, no physical contact, and limited physical and social interactions, the school environment will feel remarkably different from “normal” school and will be overly-constraining to our students as well as incredibly difficult to manage. Some childcare centers and camps, with very controlled attendance quantities and tight protocols, have done well. Others have done poorly. Schools operate in a completely different environment and scale than do child care centers and even reduced-attendance outdoor camps. Any risks faced in those settings are exponentially magnified in a school context.

How will this work with remote learning? I didn’t like it and my child was not successful in the spring.

We fully expect our remote learning systems to be much more structured than the emergency version that we created on the fly this past spring. Parents and students will be able to expect very clear schedules of what will happen and be expected, and when. There should be no wondering about what is going on. Our teachers and support staff will more effectively be engaged with students and families to ensure that this process goes well. You will begin hearing from principals very soon with school-specific detail as things firm up.

What about the importance of in-person school? Why would we do remote? Other places are doing in-person.

There is nothing we would like to see more than every student and staff member in school and in-person on the first day of school. We know that in-person instruction is the most effective way to help students learn and support them. But, we are also in a pandemic, which especially threatens our vulnerable students, staff and community members and will continue to do so until it is no longer an issue. Our decision to begin the year remotely while we take the time to observe what goes on in the surrounding community, refine our practices and protocols, and become very skilled at remote learning (which we are likely to have to utilize at various points in this school year), is the safest and most logical approach for us as a district. Other school districts have made decisions based on what they think is best in their own circumstances. We have done the same in our community.

Why can’t we just bring people into school and deal with cases when they come up?

This is a reasonable question. The answer has to do with what is involved when that type of situation occurs. According to the Health and Safety Guidelines issued by the state, when there is a case of COVID-19 confirmed with an individual who has been in the school, a number of things are required to happen. The spaces that a confirmed individual has occupied have to be closed to any use. Those spaces have to sit unused for 24 hours before cleaning and disinfection begins. Contract tracing will be conducted by the Department of Health and will likely require those who have been in close contact with the individual to face quarantine and not be allowed back in school for the designated period of time that is required. Throughout the process, individuals’ privacy must be protected and maintained at all times. The superintendent is then required to consult with the Department of Health about the case and make a local decision about keeping the school, or district schools, open. 

Ultimately, one case confirmed in one of our schools will shut down multiple classroom and public spaces that we would need to access in order to operate the school in general. One case may require numerous individuals to be quarantined, and will most likely result in either an individual school or all district schools being closed to in-person instruction based on the superintendent’s decision. At this time it makes much more sense for us to not invite that type of situation into our schools. We would be much less prepared to manage remote learning overall under those circumstances and would also be less skilled at offering remote learning to those who were required to stay at home due to vulnerability or quarantine. We are ultimately attempting to provide families with some level of predictability and consistency in terms of what to expect and plan for in September and October while we monitor the situation. Opening in-person at this time would create a lack of consistency and result in probable immediate changes to our programming based on unexpected circumstances. We believe that this would cause much more harm and disruption to families than our plan to utilize remote learning from the start of the school year.

What about my Stafford student? How does this affect them?

We are still committed to providing transportation to Stafford for students who need that access. Knowing that Stafford has offered families a choice between in-person and full remote learning, we will be waiting until that decision deadline (August 5th) passes and our MRU administration will be in contact with Stafford to identify what the specific students’ needs are. Transportation needs will be sorted out at that point in time.


July 31, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

The purpose of this email is to outline the following important information:

  • Start of school date for students and adjusted school year calendar
  • Decision regarding the way we will begin the school year as a district
  • Acknowledgement of factors involved in the decision
  • What to expect next

Start of School Date

On Tuesday of this week Governor Scott directed that Vermont schools will not open to students prior to Labor Day. Therefore, our opening day for students for the 2020-2021 school year will be Tuesday, September 8th. 

We are maintaining the overall structure to our school year calendar even with that new start date. An adjusted school year calendar is attached to this email for your reference and will also be available on our district website at http://millriverschools.org effective immediately.

Decision Regarding Start of School

We will be starting the 2020-2021 school year in Remote Learning. 

With that, we are committed to ensuring that our Remote Learning systems and outcomes are much more effective, accessible and connected than they were this past spring when we were in the midst of  our emergency response to the pandemic. The feedback from students, parents and educators has been carefully analyzed and woven into our planning for a more effective system as we begin this school year.

This approach is intended to remain in place at least through the months of September and October. Our goal is to resume in-person learning when it is safe and appropriate to do so, and we have prepared solid plans for when that time comes. A decision will be made by October 9, 2020 regarding whether or not we resume in-person instruction on November 1st.

Related to the Remote Learning start, we will be providing the opportunity for students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) to attend school in-person in order to access the support they are entitled to by law. Transportation will also be provided, if needed. More information will be provided later in this email.

Also related, guidance and direction from state authorities is coming soon regarding fall middle school and high school athletics. Anticipating that there may be some sports that are permitted to occur with restrictions, we will provide transportation to and from practices, if needed. More information will be provided later in this email.

Factors Involved

It will come as no surprise to the community that this decision is/was a very difficult one to make. We are not taking lightly or overlooking the ramifications that remote learning can have on family dynamics, friendships, child care, and parent work schedules. We clearly understand that the pandemic has made everything more difficult for all of us. 

As we shared with you in the email you received last week, our decision-making is based on attention to the following:

  1. Short and long term health and safety of our students and district employees.
  2. Ideal learning environments and best practices for instructional delivery.
  3. The social, emotional, and relational aspects of the school environment.

Looking at these priorities, the decision to open in a remote format is the safest and most logical choice for us. We do anticipate that we may be required by virus conditions to shift back into remote learning at some point coming in the school year if/when we do resume in-person instruction. We will be well-prepared for that situation as a result of starting the year remotely. We can keep our students and staff safe and healthy, provide a better  and higher-quality remote experience with more time to prepare, and will resume in-person when it is safest and best to do so. A remote learning start also provides us with the tangible benefit of watching what develops around us without endangering our students and staff.

Later in the school year, we anticipate that rather than canceling school due to winter weather, we will also be able to shift to remote learning on snow days (if we are in-person at that time) without needing to add extra days to the school year and therefore impacting family plans.

What to Expect Next

A number of things will begin occurring now that this decision has been made:

  • Families of students with IEPs will be contacted directly during the week of August 3rd to assess their interest in in-person vs. remote supports and associated transportation needs. The specific location of those services (specifically which school building(s) we will utilize) will be determined by the number of students that we are serving in-person and the overall dynamics involved with those particular students.
  • Based on athletic guidance coming soon, MRU athletes will be contacted directly after the guidance has been issued to assess their associated transportation needs.
  • Educator training will be developed and provided in line with our employee work year calendar in order to best deliver the remote learning experience that our students need and deserve.
  • Remote learning expectations, formats, and schedules for students and staff will be developed and clearly communicated as soon as they are available.
  • Principals will begin communicating much more information from individual schools beginning the week of August 3rd.
  • Details around technology acquisition, orientation opportunities with teachers, and overall expectations will be forthcoming as we spend the next month preparing and planning to implement our remote start effectively. Please continue to pay attention to emails and phone calls from your local school or from the district as that information rolls out.
  • Families and district employees have the month of August to plan, prepare, and make personal arrangements based on our status with Remote Learning for at least September and October.
  • We are designing our plans for providing meals for students. Currently, we intend to have meals available for pickup (similar to the process this summer) for our students who are eligible to receive Free and Reduced Lunch. We are investigating being able to offer meals for sale to students who are not eligible for Free-Reduced Lunch, but do have to navigate some regulatory dynamics and wait for the outcome of some decisions at the state and federal level. Updates will be provided on where we are with this process as the month of August proceeds.
  • Our After School Programs will not be operating as we are traditionally used to while we are in our Remote Learning mode during September and October. During that time, we are planning to utilize our After School Program resources and staffing to support two types of programs. One of those programs will be centered around individual tutorials/academic assistance/academic support. The other program will be focused on extracurricular workshops that will be delivered remotely to interested students. As these plans develop, more information will be shared as soon as it is available. Our intention is that once in-person instruction does resume, we will seek to implement our typical After School Programs with the service and times that our community is accustomed to.

I am sure that this information may bring new questions to mind for you. I am happy to answer those questions to the best of my ability. Please reach out either to me, or to your local school principal with any questions.

Sincerely,

Dave

MRUUSD Revised Calendar 2020-2021.docx 


7/24/2020

MRUUSD Community Members,

This email is intended to inform you of current status with regard to our reopening plans. The situation globally, nationally, and locally is very much in flux. My intention is to ensure that as of next Friday, 7/31/2020, our school district employees and community understand precisely where we are with reopening plans. 

Please be expecting communication from me next Friday, probably around noon, outlining things in more detail and with more clarity. I will have made the necessary opening decision by then and will communicate that information to you at that time.

Where We are Right Now

We have plans in place for in-person instruction to begin this fall according to the dynamics that have been outlined for you previously. Our district has done enough work on the front end that those plans will be ready to implement when it is the time to do so.

With that, I must be clear that opening remotely continues to be an option on the table, and one that I am giving very close consideration to as I make the decision about the instructional delivery disposition we utilize as a district to start the year. I am very sensitive to and burdened by the positive and negative impacts of both options (in-person vs. remote).

So that you understand the way I organize my thinking and decision-making on this subject, I approach this decision by considering the following three dynamics, listed in absolute order of importance.

  1. Short and long term health and safety of our students and district employees.
  2. Ideal learning environments and best practices for instructional delivery.
  3. The social, emotional, and relational aspects of the school environment.

Other Considerations at this Time

I am also giving strong consideration to adjusting our school district calendar to delay the start of the student year to after Labor Day. This would create more time for critical professional development and a longer on-ramp at the start of the year for us to prepare for the circumstances at hand. We may even see a directive come from the state level along those same lines. This shift is under very strong consideration.

My commitment to you is that by noon(ish) next Friday, 7/31/2020, you will have a clear picture of how we will open our schools this fall in order for you to be able to plan. I thank you for your patience as this unique era continues to unfold before us.

Any questions? Please let me know.

Dave


July 17, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

This is another important email and I ask that you give it a careful read. 

Where We are Right Now with Planning

Our overall plans for reopening are coming together very well, and are fully aligned with the Health and Safety Guidelines issued by the state. I am confident that we will be as prepared as we possibly can be for the reopening of school. Principals have been waiting for me to issue this communication to you today, and they will slowly start communicating information to you in digestible chunks about what things will look like on a school by school basis.

For the time being it still seems that our tentative student day start/stop times are holding firm: 7:45-2:00 elementary and 9:30-3:30 MRU. Transportation survey data is due today – please submit that by 3:00 pm if you have not already. Here is the link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/T59L7ZD . That information will help us to design bus routes – which will take about 2 weeks for the design to be completed. As we approach August 1st we should have a good sense of more specific bus route dynamics based on the information you have provided. We do envision students assigned to specific bus stops and specific bus seats. That system will be very INFLEXIBLE, unfortunately.

As principals being sharing more information with you in the coming weeks we will continue to target the first days of August as the timeframe when when we want all families to have a strong sense of what the reopening of school will look like. We know that information will help you to make personal decisions related to the start of the school year.

On August 3rd we will issue a survey to families asking you to indicate whether you are sending your children to school for in-person instruction or planning to keep them at home for remote learning. We plan to provide both options. The turnaround for that survey will be very quick, so please plan in advance for your response.

New Information

Our elementary PreK educators, principals and after school staff have been working hard to land on details for me to share with you. This information may change, but here is what we currently are preparing for:

CES – PreK 5 days per week. Space limited based on health guidelines. Full day for 4 years olds. Shorter day for 3 year olds ending at 12:00. Backup childcare for 3 years olds from 12:00-2:00. After School options from 2:00-5:30. 

SMS – PreK 5 days per week. Space limited based on health guidelines. After School options until 5:30.

TMS – PreK 5 days per week. Space limited based on health guidelines. After School options until 5:30.

WES – PreK 5 days per week. Space limited based on health guidelines. Full day for 4 years olds. Shorter day for 3 year olds, likely ending at 12:00. TBD childcare from 12:00-2:00 (unknown currently). After School options 2:00-5:30.

Other Considerations at this Time

We are watching the national mood turn rapidly with regard to schools being open in the fall, and also see the beginnings of a large outbreak in the Manchester area, just outside of our district. We are aware of some social media chatter indicating how parents are feeling. There is a strong opinion building nationally in opposition to in-person reopening, and many districts and colleges across the country have already made a decision to open the school year remotely. 

One of the biggest challenges for me personally as an educator in this pandemic is reconciling the reality that our usual priorities in schools tend to focus on what is best for kids, their learning, and their social emotional development. I operate that way naturally and as a result of my experience. However, in the COVID context, keeping everyone safe and healthy takes top priority and overwhelms all other needs. Learning impact and social dynamics get pushed into the background as we plan for reopening in-person school. That is a very unsettling reality for me as an educator. My own feelings aside, I am closely watching the developments of the world around us with safety and health as my top priority. The other things are critically important, but they are further down the decision-making list until we emerge from the pandemic.

I share this with you now because we need for our families to be aware that, although schools are being encouraged to open in-person and we are preparing to open in-person, I may still need to exercise the right to make the decision to start the school year in fully remote learning. As you know, that is a very complicated decision with far-reaching implications. The Governor made that decision for us this past spring. That decision and authority lies with school district superintendents as we approach the fall. For us, the circumstances would have to be right for that type of decision to be made. I simply want families to know that the concept is not off the table. While we are planning actively for in-person and will be ready, the next two weeks will be very telling in a number of ways. August 1st continues to be a target date that I am watching closely in terms families having a firm sense of what we are doing for the school reopening – and that target date in my mind applies to the concept of reopening fully remotely as well.

I am confident that this email will bring up new questions and concerns that you might have. Feel free to reach out and ask me. If your questions are about specific schools and how they will function, please direct those questions to the school principal.

Sincerely,

Dave


July 17, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

This is another important email and I ask that you give it a careful read. 

Where We are Right Now with Planning

Our overall plans for reopening are coming together very well, and are fully aligned with the Health and Safety Guidelines issued by the state. I am confident that we will be as prepared as we possibly can be for the reopening of school. Principals have been waiting for me to issue this communication to you today, and they will slowly start communicating information to you in digestible chunks about what things will look like on a school by school basis.

For the time being it still seems that our tentative student day start/stop times are holding firm: 7:45-2:00 elementary and 9:30-3:30 MRU. Transportation survey data is due today – please submit that by 3:00 pm if you have not already. Here is the link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/T59L7ZD . That information will help us to design bus routes – which will take about 2 weeks for the design to be completed. As we approach August 1st we should have a good sense of more specific bus route dynamics based on the information you have provided. We do envision students assigned to specific bus stops and specific bus seats. That system will be very INFLEXIBLE, unfortunately.

As principals being sharing more information with you in the coming weeks we will continue to target the first days of August as the timeframe when when we want all families to have a strong sense of what the reopening of school will look like. We know that information will help you to make personal decisions related to the start of the school year.

On August 3rd we will issue a survey to families asking you to indicate whether you are sending your children to school for in-person instruction or planning to keep them at home for remote learning. We plan to provide both options. The turnaround for that survey will be very quick, so please plan in advance for your response.

New Information

Our elementary PreK educators, principals and after school staff have been working hard to land on details for me to share with you. This information may change, but here is what we currently are preparing for:

CES – PreK 5 days per week. Space limited based on health guidelines. Full day for 4 years olds. Shorter day for 3 year olds ending at 12:00. Backup childcare for 3 years olds from 12:00-2:00. After School options from 2:00-5:30. 

SMS – PreK 5 days per week. Space limited based on health guidelines. After School options until 5:30.

TMS – PreK 5 days per week. Space limited based on health guidelines. After School options until 5:30.

WES – PreK 5 days per week. Space limited based on health guidelines. Full day for 4 years olds. Shorter day for 3 year olds, likely ending at 12:00. TBD childcare from 12:00-2:00 (unknown currently). After School options 2:00-5:30.

Other Considerations at this Time

We are watching the national mood turn rapidly with regard to schools being open in the fall, and also see the beginnings of a large outbreak in the Manchester area, just outside of our district. We are aware of some social media chatter indicating how parents are feeling. There is a strong opinion building nationally in opposition to in-person reopening, and many districts and colleges across the country have already made a decision to open the school year remotely. 

One of the biggest challenges for me personally as an educator in this pandemic is reconciling the reality that our usual priorities in schools tend to focus on what is best for kids, their learning, and their social emotional development. I operate that way naturally and as a result of my experience. However, in the COVID context, keeping everyone safe and healthy takes top priority and overwhelms all other needs. Learning impact and social dynamics get pushed into the background as we plan for reopening in-person school. That is a very unsettling reality for me as an educator. My own feelings aside, I am closely watching the developments of the world around us with safety and health as my top priority. The other things are critically important, but they are further down the decision-making list until we emerge from the pandemic.

I share this with you now because we need for our families to be aware that, although schools are being encouraged to open in-person and we are preparing to open in-person, I may still need to exercise the right to make the decision to start the school year in fully remote learning. As you know, that is a very complicated decision with far-reaching implications. The Governor made that decision for us this past spring. That decision and authority lies with school district superintendents as we approach the fall. For us, the circumstances would have to be right for that type of decision to be made. I simply want families to know that the concept is not off the table. While we are planning actively for in-person and will be ready, the next two weeks will be very telling in a number of ways. August 1st continues to be a target date that I am watching closely in terms families having a firm sense of what we are doing for the school reopening – and that target date in my mind applies to the concept of reopening fully remotely as well.

I am confident that this email will bring up new questions and concerns that you might have. Feel free to reach out and ask me. If your questions are about specific schools and how they will function, please direct those questions to the school principal.

Sincerely,

Dave


July 14, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

You will receive another email from me on Friday of this week with updated information as we continue to plan for reopening of schools. That email will likely focus on two things: PreK plans & After School Program status. I am very aware that many parents of our youngest students are actively seeking that information and I appreciate your patience as we have been working on plans.

This email, however, is about TRANSPORTATION. At the end of the email will be a survey link that I ask every Mill River Schools family to complete by this Friday at 3pm.

This survey will help us to design not only our bus routes, but also to plan for student entry into school buildings given the requirements we will have to fulfill with health screenings and social distancing.

Some basic details that we know about transportation/busing at this moment in time:

  1. Bus routes will be longer than in the past, some as much as 50-100% longer.
  2. Numbers of students on board our buses will be limited to ensure social distancing.
  3. Stops will be assigned to specific students and limited in number to manage the length of time for buses to stop and screen students.
  4. Specific seats will be assigned for each student on board each bus, without exception.
  5. Students will be required to wear facial coverings on board the bus at all times.
  6. There will be no eating or drinking permitted on board school buses.
  7. Our tentative longest bus route is 2 hours from start to finish. Our shortest tentative route is one hour start to finish.
  8. Tentative school start times are 7:45 am for elementary and 9:30 for MRU. Depending on how routes develop, some of those longest elementary bus routes may have to be picking up students in the ballpark of 6:15 am.
  9. With a tentative 3:30 pm end of day at MRU, some of the longest afternoon MRU routes will have students arriving at their stops near or even after 5:00 pm.
  10. We are still short the full total of bus drivers needed to make our system work. If you or someone you know is interested in that type of opportunity please touch base with me and I will point you in the right direction.
  11. Transportation to school is a service that Vermont school districts are permitted to provide, but are not required to provide by law.

Please complete this survey no later than 3:00 pm this Friday 7/17/2020. Your responses are not binding at this time, but we will lock in plans for student arrival and departure status as we enter the first weeks in August and your commitments will be form at that point in time, barring an emergency.

Survey Link Below:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/T59L7ZD

Thanks,

Dave


July 10, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

I hope you are well, and staying cool.

This email is intended to provide more details and updates as our plans for fall reopening continue to develop. My intention through the remainder of the summer will be to send families a Friday afternoon email with updates each week.

This entire email is very important for you to read and understand.

Transportation Dynamics

In order to maintain the safest school bus environment possible, we need to limit the number of students on board our school buses. This means that we are trying to ensure that buses will not have more than 24 students on board at any one time (one student per seat) and bus stops will be spread out to avoid large groups of students gathering. Screenings will take extra time at each stop, and we will be reverting back to separate elementary and MRU bus runs occurring at different times. We are also still short on bus drivers, so if you have connections with anyone please point them in our direction.

In terms of things that are up in the air right now, they include: actual routes (depends on who is riding vs. being dropped off or driving), full driver roster, and route times. The current longest routes look to be 2 hours from start to finish. The shortest routes are 1 hour from start to finish. Between elementary and MRU runs we also need to pause for 15 minutes to fully disinfect buses. You can see how complicated and time-consuming this becomes.

We will be surveying families next week soliciting non-binding (for now) commitments indicating whether or not students will ride the bus or arrive a different way. This will allow us to develop actual bus routes. We do know that bus stops will need to be specifically assigned to specific students and seats will be assigned to specific students. 

School Day and Schedule Dynamics

Related to the transportation dynamics above, we are not firm yet but are approaching some clarity about the student day at each level. We are looking at the following solid possibilities:

Elementary Student Day: 7:45 am – 2:00 pm. 

MRU Student Day: 9:30 am – 3:30 pm. 

We continue to design for elementary students to be in school 5 days per week, with likely exceptions for PreK.

MRU continues to design for students to be in-person 2 days per week and at-home 3 days per week. Students will likely be on a Mon/Wed or Tue/Thur schedule for in-person. Family consistency will be accommodated.

We also plan to survey families in early August to find out which families are concerned about their children returning to school in-person so that we can plan accordingly for the remote dynamics of learning for those students. 

Sports Dynamics

Middle school and high school sports have not been officially decided as of yet for the fall. That decision should come in the next couple weeks. We will not be hiring any coaches or offering contracts for fall sports until we know the exact direction the state is going. As mentioned in my previous email on this topic, there may be sports that are permitted to operate in the fall due to ability to maintain safety. There may be others that are prohibited. If there are any sports, the start date for those that are operating has been moved back to at least the first day of school in late August.

It is worth noting that, IF fall MS/HS sports do occur in any capacity, athletes will be responsible for getting themselves to school for practices and events. On days that they are in-person at MRU, that is simple. On days that they are at-home, that becomes more complicated. The district does not have any ability to transport at-home students to school for an after school practice or event.

I have made the difficult but justifiable decision that our elementary sports programs for this year will not occur. We do not have the ability to safely manage that process for our elementary students, staff, coaches and spectators. While I know that is not an ideal message for our families who participate in those sports, I have to make the decision that keeps our kids, staff and community safe. I am willing to revisit that decision in February/March 2021 to see where we are as a society with the virus and will make the safest decision possible at that time as well with regard to Spring 2021 sports options.

Stafford Technical Center

30-40 of our MRU students are enrolled at Stafford. Some drive and some ride a bus from MRU to Stafford each day. There are difficult dynamics in play, given that each high school in the region will be operating on a schedule that works for that school based on students numbers and space available to maintain social distancing. We will be working with Stafford and within our own transportation system to figure out what we can offer to get STC students from MRU to Stafford on a daily basis. There are no guarantees as to what we can or cannot provide. We’re committed to doing the best we can. When ultimate details emerge in that regard that information will come from the MRU Principal, Mr. Weideman.

Surveys Coming Out Soon

I plan to share a survey with our parent community at the start of next week seeking information about busing intentions. Please be on the lookout for that if it relates to you. We will need a very strong response to that survey in order to best meet the needs of everyone.

During the week of August 3rd individual schools will be sharing surveys with their parent community seeking feedback about those who need to continue in remote learning.

Please don’t hesitate to send any question my way. if your question is more based in a specific school’s dynamics, please don’t hesitate to contact that principal directly as well.

Thanks,

Dave


June 29, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

The purpose of this email is to inform you of current status and thinking as details are developing for the fall and our efforts toward reopening schools. Please read this carefully. It is important for you to understand.

Agency of Education / Department of Health Safety and Health Guidance for Reopening Schools – we are planning our systems and procedures for tight compliance and implementation with fidelity to the guidelines for school reopening established at the state level. 

Transportation/School Buses – we are anticipating significant challenges with transportation. Currently, we are three (3) drivers short of being able to operate the number of buses we will need. In alignment with the health guidance, we will be operating buses at very limited capacity (we will have no more than 24 students per bus). This will mean we have to run more routes that will take longer, resulting in adjustments to school start and stop times. Students will be screened by a trained staff member before entering the bus, and failing the screening (ex: temperature above 100.4) will require the student to not board the bus. The impacts to our transportation system with driver shortages, screenings, and limited numbers of students on board the bus will result in significant impacts overall. In the next week or so we will firm up those impacts and will be surveying families in the next few weeks asking you to indicate your very specific intentions regarding school bus access so that we can be as efficient with our very limited resources as possible. We will also be requesting/encouraging any families that are able to drive students to school to do so.

Student Arrival – we are accustomed to managing student entry to school through a limited number of entrances. That will be shifting, as students will enter through multiple access points, where they will be screened by a trained staff member. This process will take time, although we will become more efficient at it as time goes on. Principals will be developing specific entry procedures for bus riders (already screened) and walkers/parent drop-offs (need to be screened).

Elementary School Attendance – we are designing plans for elementary school students to be in attendance at school 5 days per week (with exceptions to PreK students, who will likely be less). Our elementary schools will be able to group students as required by the guidance while still keeping them with us every day. 

MS/HS Attendance – it is not possible for us to meet the space and distancing requirements in the guidelines while having all 450 MRU students in the building. MRU will be developing what we are referring to as a “hybrid” schedule, which will likely look like an individual student being in-person at school two days per week and working remotely from home three days per week. This type of model is being widely developed in many school districts across the state, particularly at the MS/HS level. 

Remote Learning for Some/All? – I have received contacts from some families who are generally concerned about sending their children back to school in the fall. We are planning for how to better deliver instruction to students who are not necessarily physically present in school. The foundation for this is already underway through our staff professional development efforts, which are working toward what we are calling “module” based instructional delivery, the hybrid attendance concept at MS/HS, and standardizing the platforms we use (ex: Google Classroom for HS or Seesaw for PK-2). Our work at revising our remote learning practices and approach is based on the feedback received directly from parents and students. We strive to be flexible in meeting the needs of students while also able to adapt quickly and skillfully to the overall public health dynamics of the COVID situation, in the event that we see future school closures and required remote learning.

Facial Coverings – will be required for all students and staff. Please act now to begin identifying the facial coverings that work best for your children. I recommend having multiple backups as well. The district will be purchasing emergency backup facial coverings for students and staff in the event they are needed. However, the district will not be providing facial coverings for students and staff as a general rule. Facial coverings are an understood reality of participating in our society currently, and individual people have different needs and preferences that we will simply not be able to satisfy. Please take advantage of the time at hand to help your children practice wearing and caring for their own facial coverings.

Music Programming – one of the only instructional areas specifically addressed in the state guidance was that of performing arts, specifically choral groups and wind instrument groups. This creates a challenge in that our music educators will be delivering instruction and experiences in a unique environment. However, let me be clear in saying that our music programs will continue to not only occur, but thrive. I am grateful that we have top notch, excellent folks working on designing those experiences under unique and challenging circumstances.

Sports Programs – there have been no determinations as of yet regarding fall sports. I expect those to happen in the next 3-4 weeks. If I were predicting an outcome, I’d anticipate that elementary-based sports programs will not occur for the fall and MS/HS sports may see some sports able to occur and some unable to occur based on the dynamics of the specific sport and the ability to maintain social distancing while competing.

Summertime Travel – just a reminder, should you decide to travel this summer outside of Vermont to an area that will require you to quarantine upon return, placing your children in a position to have to accommodate a travel-based quarantine will be problematic as it relates to starting the school year.

Plans Solidifying – administrators are working to further refine our planning over the next few weeks. Our internal goal is to have our plans relatively solid by 7/15 so that handbooks, procedures, and communication can be developed. By 8/1 we hope to have everything very firm with little likelihood of changes before the start of the school year.

School Year Calendar – there is the possibility that changes to the 2020-2021 school year calendar might occur either at the regional or state level. If that does occur you will be informed as soon as there are firm details. If you are interested in the current calendar you can find it on the front page of our website at http://millriverschools.org . The first scheduled day of student attendance is currently set for Wednesday 8/26/2020.

I realize that this is a lot of information. It will continue to evolve every week. If you have questions, please let me know.

Have a peaceful and safe 4th of July holiday this coming weekend!

Dave


June 18, 2020

Mill River Schools Community,

This email contains two important updates:

  • Actions taken by the MRUUSD Board last night
  • Critical details behind schools reopening

Board Actions Taken on 6/17/2020

At last night’s board meeting, we reviewed the Four Year Equity Plan that our administration has been developing in order to solicit board feedback as we prepare to finalize and publish that plan. The plan is intended to capture the work that MRUUSD will be undertaking in order to accomplish board goals and meet the requirements of our District Equity Policy. I expect the plan to be finalized and published online in the coming days.

As a part of that discussion, the Board took specific actions last night directing the District to raise and fly the Black Lives Matter flag and the Pride flag at each of our five schools (MRU, CES, SMS, TMS, WES) beginning with the start of the new school year. This is a strong and important stance for a Board and District to take, and as an educational leader I do agree fully with the Board’s decision and direction.

The Board further directed administration to work with a group of stakeholders to develop an educational context for the flag-raising actions and specific plans for how the process will unfold. The group that will be developing those plans will be working under the facilitation of Jodie Stewart-Ruck, Principal at SMS. In that stakeholder group, student involvement and student voice will be the most important component. Teacher, support staff, parent, and board member involvement will also be important. Mrs. Stewart-Ruck is tasked with forming and facilitating the group in order to keep the work focused and effective toward meeting the directions given by the Board. If you have an interest in participating in that group effort, or have a student at home who would be interested, please send an email to jruck@millriverschools.org expressing that interest. Please note that this will be entirely summertime work as we design and plan the process.

Reopening Schools in the Fall

Yesterday, the Agency of Education and Department of Health issued the guidelines for safely reopening schools. They are very restrictive, but directly in line with what we were expecting. It is very important that families become familiar with these details now, which we do not see changing in any significant way prior to the start of school. I have attached a document that outlines the details in clear terms that are easier to digest. Please take some time to get familiar with this information as this informs all of our planning and focus as we move forward prepping for the fall. These are statewide guidelines and we will adhere to them closely in the MRUUSD

If you have any questions, please let me know. Thanks.

Essential Details – Safety and Health Guidance for Reopening Schools.pdf 6.18.2020.pdf

Dave