BELLOWS FALLS — It's all hands on deck for returning students to Bellows Falls Union High School next week.
In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Bellows Falls Union High School (BFUHS) Board of Directors granted Windham Northeast Supervisory Union (WNESU) Superintendent Andy Haas and BFUHS Principal Kelly O'Ryan operational authority to reopen the high school next week for the 2023-24 academic year after elevated PCB levels were found in the building earlier this month [story, page A1].
The motion, originally presented by board member David Clark, gave the authority to select an option provided to the board by the state Department of Environmental Conservation which allows for unrestricted use of rooms not above the immediate action threshold.
O'Ryan said the goal is to attempt to keep students and staff as close to the proposed 26 hours of exposure per week mandated in a more stringent option. The preferred option provides the highest risk to students and staff but also the most freedom to open and operate the school.
"Our intention is to run a five-day, full-time schedule with no disruption to learning and no remote learning," O'Ryan said.
As part of mitigation efforts, 80 carbon filtration units are en route to the school to be placed throughout the C and D wings to maintain safe air quality levels for students and staff.
In addition, a number of Supervisory Union and support offices, like transportation and occupational and physical therapies, will move to trailers when they become available, opening up more space inside the school building for instructional activities in areas where the PCBs tested below action levels.
"The recommendation for us is an air handler that will change air every six hours per cubic foot," Haas said. "So, second rounds of testing won't begin until we're doing the six air changes an hour. School will be well underway before we get that second round of testing."
O'Ryan said that it's highly likely that given the high levels of PCBs found in the school's gymnasium and auditorium, those spaces will not be back online for the foreseeable future and work continues to secure alternative sites for athletics and other co-curricular activities in an effort to keep things as normal as possible for the school community.
"We're working to be able to pivot and make slight modifications to minimize disruptions," she said.
O'Ryan also said the administration team is looking into options for students and families not comfortable returning to school now that PCBs have been detected at high levels.
Options include full-time Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative (VTVLC) enrollment and school choice options for surrounding schools. More details will be available in coming days as the research continues.
"Some families are not comfortable coming back to the building regardless and so it's important to center that reality in this plan," she said.
A second amendment requiring the administration to share all communications from state agencies with the chair of the BFUHS board was given by board member June Streeter and passed 5–1 with two abstentions.
"Stuff changes daily," Streeter said. "We've learned stuff today from last Thursday or Friday and we need to be up to date on current information being provided."
The BFUHS School Board will meet again Aug. 28 at 6:30 p.m.
This News item by Megan Applegate was written for The Commons.