Gov. Phil Scott on Thursday ordered Vermont schools to remain closed for the remainder of the school year due to the continued spread of the coronavirus.
Scott had initially ordered all schools from pre-K through 12th grade closed until at least April 6 but said that directive could be extended. His new order comes on a day in which Vermont saw its biggest spike in coronavirus cases yet.
“The education of our students and the bonding and learning experiences they have at schools are tremendously important, so I fully appreciate the impact and difficulty of this decision,” Scott said in a press release.
Districts will need to continue remote instruction and must adopt learning plans that reflect this new reality by April 13, per the order. The Agency of Education will provide technical assistance to schools by the end of the week and will then issue guidance no later than May 8 about graduations and end-of-year school gatherings.
Scott administration officials have acknowledged that learning plans will vary depending on the community. Some schools — particularly ones in rural areas without reliable internet access — may need to adopt hybrid systems, supplementing online learning with take-home learning packets, officials said.
On Thursday, Scott conceded that it may be difficult for some schools to set up remote learning plans that can carry through to the end of the school year. But he said he was "encouraged by the creativity" that he's seen from educators and parents thus far.
“I know, together, they can rise to the occasion,” he said in a press release.
The order also encourages schools to continue offering childcare services for essential workers. Scott praised districts that have already set up these "creative and critically needed programs."
"These educators and staff who are finding ways to support these families have been critical to our COVID-19 response efforts, and I am so proud and appreciative of their hard work," Scott said in the release. "These educators, and the staff supporting them, represent the very best of our public education system.”
Vermont’s teachers union responded to Scott’s decision on Thursday night with a commitment to collaborate with school and state officials and to figure out “how best to continue teaching and learning in a meaningful way.”
“While we are disappointed and saddened, we understand the fierce urgency of maintaining the health and safety of all our students, educators, school administrators, parents, and all Vermonters,” wrote Vermont-National Education Association president Don Tinney.
Scott’s decision to initially close schools is the latest in a series of orders he has made since declaring a state of emergency on March 13. Since then, he has banned nonessential public gatherings of more than 10 people, shuttered businesses and bars to in-person diners, required all businesses and nonprofits to do everything they can to facilitate telecommuting, and ordered Vermonters to only leave their homes for essential trips.
Despite these moves, the coronavirus has continued to infect more Vermonters. State officials warned on Wednesday that they were seeing an “exponential growth” of the illness. Scott’s latest order says his decision to prolong school closures remains based on the “best scientific evidence available” to reduce the spread of the disease.
Scott planned to hold a press conference Friday morning to discuss his decision.