St. Johnsbury Has Had Enough Of Online

ST. JOHNSBURY - The St Johnsbury School has decided to finally let their Pre-K through 6th Graders go back to school.  “I am tired of remote learning. I am tired of it for my own kids. I'm tired of it for St. Johnsburys children. I am feeling the push to get students back into the classrooms, as safely as we can,”  Brian Ricca, St. J Schools Superintendent explains.

 Ricca says that the idea to let students return to the school for in person learning was brought up back in October 2020. The Vermont Agency of Education, and The Vermont Department of Health have determined that Pre-K through 6th grade students can safely be inside a classroom if students are spaced out three feet apart. The question is, if the idea was originally said back in October, why did it take four months to make the decision to let students back in the building full time?

"Then I think you will remember, there were several outbreaks in the state around Halloween. So that put our plans on pause," Ricca said in his interview. He goes on to explain, "we then took on the task of monitoring what families did during the Thanksgiving break."

Ricca explains that during the Thanksgiving season, the school did not like calling families and asking about their personal plans for the holidays. "On the other hand, I feel a real sense of obligation to do everything I can to protect my teachers, and my staff," Ricca says. Due to some families not following the rules on multi-family household gatherings, the school was forced to delay their plans even further.

Ricca goes into talking about the transition from online learning to full time in person learning for his students, and teachers. He says that after long months of planning, which included teachers and the schools reopening task force, the school was challenged with deciphering when the best time would be to let students back into the building.

"Every time we got to a place where we thought, well it's really time to have this conversation again, we had a local or statewide outbreak." It was finally decided and the plan coming out of winter break was to see if the school could bring back their younger students.

"We wanted to get some traction before the February break," Ricca explained with confidence. Teachers he has spoken with are eager, but they are also nervous for this transition. "The fact that we have not been able to have eighty percent of our students in school, has really been hard on our teachers," Ricca says.

Ricca goes on to explain how they have prepared for this transition, as the school has already had two positive covid tests in the first week of in person learning. "We have had two positive cases this week, and we have responded thoughtfully to those."

Ricca says that with every case and every obstacle, the school will continue to look to the Department of Health for guidance. The students that were exposed at school will not be returning back until after February break, to eliminate transmission.

He shares that not everyone is excited about this decision, as some parents are worried for their children's safety with the new variant spreading from the UK.

"Some have suggested that because of the variant they should stay remote the entire year. My response to anyone who shares any concern is, look I'm a dad. I have two kids of my own, I understand your concern."

Ricca explains that even though we cannot eliminate the risk of transmission, the school will continue to follow the guidelines to mitigate the risks. "If the Department of Health is seeing a lot of cases, if we reach out to them and say, case counts seem to be rising (Which they're not!) but if the data changes, we are going to ask the experts what our risks are."

Ricca wants teachers, staff, parents, and community members to know, for the sake of their students, if the school has to go back to a full time hybrid model, they will. But Ricca is determined to make sure students are learning in a way that works for teachers and students. Ricca's final comment was, "I know our community wants our kids back at school, I want my own kids back in school. I said it before, I want St. J kids back in school."