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Lack of Staff Shuts Area Schools

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School got off to a rough start in Barre and East Montpelier, as families learned Monday morning that the school day would be significantly disrupted. Barre’s Spaulding High School was closed for the day, and East Montpelier’s U-32 opened, but dismissed students after lunch. 

Officials at both schools attributed the closures to staff shortages.

“Like many schools in our region and across Vermont, we are experiencing a critical staff shortage,” Washington Central Unified Union School District Superintendent Dr. Meagan Roy said in an email, adding that unfilled vacancies in many parts of the district have created staffing challenges that “(make) it difficult to weather the ‘typical’ absences we see, especially as we enter the fall cold, flu, and of course COVID season.”

Roy explained, “The situation today became critical enough that we needed to restructure U-32’s day to prioritize morning classes and then we will dismiss.” Roy called the combination of staff shortages and illness “a perfect storm of sorts — not specific to any one illness or any one vacancy, but to the combination of all those things.”

Similarly, Barre Unified Union School District Superintendent Chris Hennessey said in a statement sent to the school community, “Beginning last week, we experienced a significant increase in student and staff absences due to illness across the community. The SHS community has been hit particularly hard since late last week, and it became clear very early this morning that despite every possible effort we simply would not have enough people on hand to safely open.” Hennessey, too, pointed to COVID-19 in addition to other illnesses creating the issues. Other BUUSD district schools remained open Monday.

Neither Hennessey nor Roy addressed whether the closures of two schools in neighboring communities because of illness were related. Roy said, “I can’t speak to Spaulding’s closure, although I do know that we are not unique in our staffing challenges.”

Said Hennessey in his statement, “I am hearing that some of our neighboring districts are experiencing similar concerns.”

It remained unclear at press time what the remainder of the school week would look like at the two schools. Roy noted, “We certainly hope this is a one-time event, but unfortunately our staffing shortage has been ongoing since the start of the school year. A lack of substitutes on top of existing vacancies makes it challenging.”

Hennessey, too, expressed the hope that more closures would not occur. His statement noted, “Going forward, we will continue to take a ‘day-to-day’ approach and only close schools or specific classes and grades if absolutely necessary.”  

“Certainly our hope is that we will be able to manage the situation and hold school as usual tomorrow,” Roy said on Monday morning. “Our team will be working this afternoon to understand the situation from today and look ahead as best we can.”