Two Vermont principals and an academic from Dartmouth College jointly called on Vermont Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday to implement a statewide mask mandate for all schools.
Libby Bonesteel of Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools and Brian Ricca of St. Johnsbury School District joined Anne Sosin, a policy researcher at Dartmouth College’s Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy, in an appeal on Tuesday via Zoom. This move is necessary to protect children’s health and keep them in class, they said.
Last fall, Sosin said, Vermont offered the rest of the country a “back-to-school plan” amid COVID-19, with 41 pages of advice from the Vermont Agency of Education and the Department of Education. health. This year, however – with the state’s case count 30 times higher than last fall and the new highly transmissible Delta variant dominating – the state’s guidelines for schools are only two pages long.
They say students and staff should stay home in the event of illness, and schools should require a universal indoor mask for the first 10 days of school. After that, masks should no longer be required for people eligible for the vaccine in schools where 80% or more of the student body has been vaccinated. Children under 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccines, must continue to wear masks.
Sosin said the scaled-down guidelines ignore expertise from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, both of which recommend universal masking in all K-12 settings. In Vermont, children between the ages of 6 and 11 have the highest infection rate in the state, Sosin said. The Department of Health is yet to report cases of COVID-19 in schools.
“Returning children safely to classrooms must now be the central focus of Vermont’s public health response,” Sosin said. “Vermont has shown the United States that it takes a village to reopen schools during a pandemic. The state, however, must not leave villages alone this fall. It’s time to build on the lessons that ensured the success of Vermont, rather than withdrawing. last year. ”
Because Vermont is no longer in a state of emergency, Governor Scott said he was unable to require schools to comply with state COVID-19 guidelines. This means that local districts are free to set their own rules. Canaan, a rural district on the border of Canada and New Hampshire that has only one school, is the only district in the state that does not currently require students and staff to wear masks.
Ricca said the local control approach has created “some chaos and confusion” for educators and parents.
“I don’t understand what is preventing our administration from being more adamant and giving us clear and universal advice to support a safe return to school,” Ricca said, noting that three-quarters of the students in his district are not eligible for vaccinations. Again. “We want students in school for in-person learning… Why wouldn’t we want to do all we can as a state to create and maintain a safe learning environment for them? ”
Outside Champlain Valley Union High School last week, a student on a bus ran over two women protesting the mask warrants. A photo posted by VTDigger.org has gone viral.
Bonesteel said there were five cases of COVID-19 in his district last week, the first full week of school.
“I think the state and the school systems were caught off guard with the rapid rise of the Delta variant just before school started,” Bonesteel said. Because there is no longer a state of emergency, “we are pretty much in a typical school year … in an incredibly atypical pandemic”.
Bonesteel said that last year there had been “an incredible collaboration” between his school district and the Vermont Department of Health. District staff had cell phone numbers of health service staff members and got an immediate response when asked for advice on how to handle positive cases. Last week, she said she was having trouble calling someone from the Department of Health on the phone to support the district in its COVID response.
It was not until Saturday morning that she spoke to someone in the department, who told her that she should have made all the students who were going by bus to a sports match with an infected student to put themselves in. quarantine. At this point, it was too late to follow these guidelines.
“This year, I think we’re supposed to be the public health experts in all situations,” Bonesteel said. “There are new rules to this game that we are not sure about… We need immediate answers. We cannot wait five days… That only fuels the fire of anxiety.”
Kate Larose, a parent from Canaan who has an 8-year-old who is immunocompromised, also spoke on Tuesday.
Larose criticized Governor Scott for saying at a recent press conference that since the only district that does not currently require masks is Canaan, “we are not arguing over nothing.”
“The health and well-being of my child and the rest of the state’s children is no small thing, Governor Scott,” Larose said. She noted that, based on current guidelines, high schools across the state may drop mask mandates next week.
Larose said she was successful in getting her school district to pay her son to attend a universal mask school this year, “which is great for our child and unhappy for all the other kids who are still in school at. Canaan. “She and her husband spend four hours a day driving him to and from his new school,” Larose said.
Bonesteel and Ricca have both said they will follow CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations – not state guidelines – meaning all students and staff in their districts will wear masks until. ‘See you again. Superintendents said general respect for masks in their schools was good.
But other school officials, including those at the Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union and the Missisquoi Valley School District, have been turned away by parents who believe their children shouldn’t have to wear masks.
“There are many different beliefs in our state… and just because I don’t get fire for my mask mandate, I know other people are, significantly, and the vitriol thrown at them in it. timing isn’t right, ”Bonesteel mentioned. “I think a universal mandate would help this situation.”