Two Vermont Schools Cancel Classes Due to Illness, Staff Shortages | Education | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Two Vermont Schools Cancel Classes Due to Illness, Staff Shortages


Published October 3, 2022 at 12:38 p.m.

  • File: Thom Glick
After a month of minimal school disruptions, Spaulding High School in Barre and U-32 Middle & High School in East Montpelier canceled classes on Monday due to a combination of widespread illness and staffing shortages.

Barre Unified Union School District superintendent Chris Hennessey closed Spaulding High School for the full day, while Washington Central Unified Union School District superintendent Meagan Roy made the decision to hold morning classes at U-32 but dismiss students after lunch.

In an email to his school community on Monday morning, Hennessey explained that, beginning last week, there had been a "significant increase" in student and staff absences, due to both COVID-19 and other illnesses.
"It became clear very early this morning that despite every possible effort, we simply would not have enough people on hand to open safely," Hennessey wrote.

In a phone call on Monday, Hennessey said the shortage of both permanent staff and substitute teachers contributed to the decision to close for the day.

Even though his district has hired permanent substitutes for each school — staff members who come in every day and cover whatever class they are needed in — some of those people are sick, and there's a very small pool of additional substitute teachers to draw from. On Friday, the high school was teetering on the brink of closure, he said, but was able to stay open with administrators and clerical staff filling in for absent educators.

Hennessey said his district is "in a constant state" of trying to fill support staff positions and recruit substitute teachers.

Roy, the Washington Central superintendent, said in an email to Seven Days that the staffing shortage was also a factor in U-32's half-day closure. The lack of substitutes in particular  has made it difficult to weather "typical" absences due to cold, flu and COVID-19.

On Monday, "the situation became critical enough that we needed to restructure U-32's day to prioritize morning classes," she said.
Roy described the situation as "a perfect storm of sorts — not specific to any one illness or any one vacancy, but to the combination of all those things."

She said the district is hoping to hold classes as usual on Tuesday.

Closing school is an "absolute last-resort option," Hennessey said, but sometimes there is no other choice.