Dear Local Leaders,

The next two days will present unprecedented challenges for you and your colleagues, not to mention the stress and anxiety your students and their families will be experiencing in the hours, days and weeks to come.

As you know, as adult members of the community, our top priority is the health and safety of our children. Everything else is secondary to the care and support you will provide your students and your colleagues during this health crisis.

You will undoubtedly be receiving a series of e-mails and messages from Vermont-NEA, so I will apologize in advance for overwhelming your inbox as we err on the side of providing too much information.

I am writing this morning to address the immediate concerns regarding two elements in the “Continuity of Education Plan” included in Governor Scott’s order to dismiss students. Vermont-NEA had no input in the writing of this plan, so I do not have a clear understanding of the intention or the vision imbedded in the directives.

“Ensuring children have trackable work to do when schools are dismissed Tuesday.”  While some districts have been planning for this event and have lessons in place, it is unreasonable—if not downright impossible—for educators to create plans and packets of work before tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps, educators could spend today and tomorrow confirming contact information with students and their families, assuring them that they’ll figure out ways to stay in touch during this long-term dismissal.  The Agency of Education has not provided guidance on how to put this “trackable work” plan in place, so it will be a work in progress for everyone.

“Remote learning plan that prepares for schools to be closed for a longer period.”  Distance learning can be an effective tool for many students, but we know that the equity issues related to digital technology are insurmountable at this point. For that reason alone, other states are not promoting remote learning. We cannot assume that all students have internet access, let alone access to the devices that would allow them to be connected at home. There is no way this issue will be resolved by Tuesday afternoon. This plan also assumes that our educators have the set of skills to teach remotely. We have many colleagues who do a remarkable job with virtual learning, but they have honed their skills in graduate courses and workshops defined specifically for providing on-line instruction, not to mention years of experience. Again, we will await guidance from the Agency of Education. Given the speed with which the governor’s decision was made, they did not have time to develop plans and directives to support those of you in the field. Secretary of Education Dan French and his staff will continue making plans over the next few days. Patience will be more than a virtue this week, it will be an absolute requirement.

In closing, please be compassionate, kind and forgiving with all those around you today and tomorrow. You will most likely have unreasonable expectations placed upon you in the next 48 hours, so assure your administrators, colleagues and students that you are doing the best you can to support and protect the people around you. Don’t hesitate to point out that the Agency of Education will issue further guidance in the days ahead, so you know that every detail does not have to be in place by Tuesday afternoon.

You are a proud educator and a strong union member, but you are first a human being. Whatever it takes, please take care of yourself and rely on your Vermont-NEA sisters and brothers for support.

Thank you,

Don Tinney

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