Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

What Moving To 'Step III' Has Looked Like In One Vermont District

Middlebury Union High School is part of Addison Central School District, which is in the process of transitioning from Step II to Step III in its phased reopening, starting with its elementary schools.
Google Maps
Middlebury Union High School is part of Addison Central School District, which is in the process of transitioning from Step II to Step III in its phased reopening, starting with its elementary schools.

As the academic school year settles in, districts around the state are making decisions related to the so-called "Step III" phase of re-opening amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.VPR's Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Peter Burrows, the superintendent of Addison Central School District,  about the changes that are taking place now that students and teachers in his district are moving forward from Step II to Step III, and exactly what that entails.

A transcript of the interview is below. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Peter Burrows: Step III from Step II allows us to have more students in the building. It changes the physical distancing standards, which are, I think, one of the key things that superintendents have been looking at.

Mitch Wertlieb: How does it change those physical distancing standards?

So in Step III, the physical distancing becomes three feet for elementary or ten and under, and six feet [for students in sixth grade and up], and the key language in the guidelines is "if possible." And if not possible, if you can't maintain the three feet or the six feet, then the focus is on really strong protocols around mask use.

More from Vermont Edition: How A Mom Of Three Burlington High School Students Is Handling The School's Closure

How do you determine then if it's not possible to maintain that three or six foot distance?

In terms of the guidelines, what "not possible" means is: through the course of the day, students are in the hallway, students are in different classrooms, and obviously this changes from elementary to secondary [school].

I think the understanding and the message through the guidelines is: if at all possible, maintain the three feet and six feet. But given where Vermont is and given COVID-19 transmission rates, the focus on mask use, especially a three-foot-and-under distance for elementary, I think has been the main focus of Step III guidance as opposed to Step II.

Let's focus on what's happening right now in the Addison Central School District. Are gymnasiums and cafeterias, for example, open in your district right now?

They're not open in the normal way that they are typically in a regular school year. We have a partnership with a local child care center and we have child care in some of our gyms right now. They're kind of a multi-use space in some of our buildings.

And cafeterias, same thing: It's open, but not in the usual way that you'd be used to?

Yeah, and we're continuing with a lot of the Step II procedures we started with, such as with the cafeteria. We are continuing to have students eat in their classrooms, as opposed to everybody coming to the cafeteria. We're finding that some of those things in Step II are working really well now, and I think we're going to continue those for the foreseeable future.

More from VPR: New Childcare Hubs Give Families An Option During Remote Learning

What about athletics? Are kids participating in competitions with other districts right now?

They are, yes. So that opened up statewide with the move to Step III. We expected that the move would happen and competitions would commence. It came a few days after I think most people thought it would come, but now that we are in Step III, students are competing with other school districts.

 As I understand ACSD will be switching to full in-person instruction for students from pre-K to sixth grade later this month. What is the reasoning behind that and how do you know you're ready?

We shared with our community at the start of the school year the criteria we'd be using and also the criteria we've been discussing with the state and with local and regional superintendent groups. We felt like we were ready. Almost all of us have moved this month and are moving towards fully in-person for pre-K through fifth or sixth grade.

More from VPR: 'Whatever They Tell Us, We're Doing': School Support Staff Prepare For Reopening

Why not for middle school and high school?

We're starting with elementary. There has been strong support for that. We are also assessing the secondary level. We feel that things are going really well, and we certainly hope to bring our secondary students back for more days in-person in the not-so-distant future.

What are parents saying about moving to full in-person instruction for pre-K through six?

I think for the most part, parents are supportive and excited about that. You know, as with many things right now, you're not going to get 100% consensus on on how people feel. Homeschooling, for example, this year, I think statewide, is probably double what it has been in years past.

So we expect that we will need to support families from whatever kind of place they're coming to, and that's why we are also continuing to provide a remote-only option for families.

More from VPR: 'Spreading Humility' While Learning Remotely Duing COVID-19

Do you have enough substitute teachers if the regular teachers get sick, for example?

We saw that coming. It's certainly a concern. We did hire a number of more permanent substitute positions this year.

The challenge we're going to face is when flu season hits. Under the guidelines, staff members are going to need to be quarantining at times, just to be sure, when they come down with some of these symptoms. They may not have COVID, but they still will be sick. So we're we're prepared for some of those challenges.

And of course, you know, one of the challenges for all school districts is that nothing really feels normal in the way that we're used to. So we're having to be real flexible. Staff are are super flexible. I've been really impressed.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with host Mitch Wertlieb @mwertlieb.

We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

Copyright 2020 Vermont Public

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Sam held multiple positions at Vermont Public Radio for several years, including managing editor of the award-winning programVermont Edition, and morning news editor.
Latest Stories