Rebecca Holcombe: COVID-19 Update #3

Planning for Closures

The best emergency plans are the ones you don’t need, but as the eventual closure of schools seems more and more certain, what runs through my mind are the words of Vermonter Tom Bodett, whose voice you may know from Ken Burns documentaries or NPR:  “They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” 

The economic and health impacts of coronavirus are real, and need our attention, but we must also attend to our human needs. We are social animals, and our social habits are deeply ingrained. Social distancing is incredibly hard to practice, even at the most basic, physical operational level:

For example:

We need to be able to talk to each other about how we keep ourselves and our neighbors safe, even when that is hard. We must understand that social distancing isn’t just for other people.  And, we all need to work together to care for each other in this moment of challenge. That means making sure our kids and loved ones have:

  • Someone to love (and feel loved)
  • Something to do
  • Something to hope for

Below are a few “starter” examples of how communities, their schools, and individuals can and are working together to plan for a time we are asked to add school closures to our efforts to practice social distancing. While I am no longer the acting Secretary of Education and, as such, do not have access to the state resources or the requisite contact with the administration to issue official guidance on this evolving situation, it is clear that: Now is the time to plan.

State level:

Again, I call on Governor Scott and his Cabinet to provide daily updates regarding COVID-19 (coronavirus) including:

  • Details of the state’s response.
  • What communities should be doing to prepare – this includes education, religious, elderly/assisted living, state worker, business communities, etc.
  • Governor Scott needs to be giving daily updates and guidance so people don’t fill the void created by lack of communication with fear.

People need this communication to know what to do, and to have confidence in the response of their leadership. With regard to public schools, The Agency of Education should be developing and sharing solutions and recommendations on a daily basis. And, the state must double down on efforts to expand broadband access, because too many Vermonters cannot connect. This means that some Vermonters have potential to be cut off from communication, actions they can take, and solutions.

District level:

School districts and schools must be planning now with steps on how to best support children in the event of prolonged closure. This includes planning for how students will get food and learning materials remotely. Steps to address this could include:

  • Creating an internet-based platform for students to access.
  • Getting paper copies of material to students without broadband access.
  • Planning how buildings will be managed and who will be allowed on campus.
  • Checking that contact information for all students and caregivers.
  • Keep social media accounts up to date and have several point people authorized to update these accounts.
  • Identify staff and students most at risk and create a plan to keep them safe up until a closure and beyond.
  • Ensure there is a consistent online learning location to avoid confusion (each teacher cannot be using a different platform).
  • Communicate with teachers the district level plans.
  • Create a way to have students access guidance, social workers, and school nurses remotely.

Here is one example of how a district is a planning distribution of bagged breakfasts and lunches to students via a bus run:


Here are a few examples from Vermont educators of what they are doing to prepare:

  • Teach kids how to wash their hands (Really teach them):
  • Practice daily wellness activities to deal with stress and teach methods to students. 
  • Have students create a home learning kit.
  • Make sure all students have books to take home.
  • Have students create a digital backpack of website that could be used for home learning.
  • Have students make videos of how to wash their hands properly, wellness techniques, etc that can be shared on the schools social media.
  • Have teachers record themselves reading stories that can be shared.


Parents can use this moment to develop their own contingency plans, and to communicate those plans to their children:

  • Communicate with your work to see if working from home is a possibility, and if not, identify who will take care of the kids.
  • If you have food needs, make sure to know what your school is planning for food distribution. 
  • Know what your child’s school plans are in case of closure.
  • Model healthy ways of dealing with stress.
  • Have books and games to keep your child occupied.
  • Plan a trip to the local library to get books and other materials.

All of us

  • Again, for good measure: Learn how to wash our hands:
  • Acknowledge the stress and challenge this moment puts on people, young and old and be empathetic: 
    • Imagine you are an athlete, and your season is cancelled before it finishes.  
    • Imagine you have been working for months on a school play or musical, and your performances are cancelled. 
    • Maybe you or someone you know is an older Vermonter, nearing the end of their life.
    • You or someone you know could be the sole economic provider for your family and are unsure of how changes to your employment could affect you or your family.
    • Everyone needs understanding that this situation affects us all, even if differently.
  • Use what tools we have to acknowledge the hard work of people who are seeking to bring us together, in spite of social distancing—and ask yourself whether you can contribute to this shared sense of hope:
    • For example, this performer used her social media platform to celebrate the talent of young performers from around the nation, who had lost the chance to share their work in person:

Again, as Tom Bodett said: “They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” 

We love our state and our strong communities. Now is time to care not just for ourselves, but for the community at large. If we all do our part, we can be stronger, more equitable and more resilient, not just in the face of this crisis, but in a better tomorrow.