New Vt. student health screening guidance raises questions

Published: Nov. 25, 2020 at 4:57 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 26, 2020 at 12:56 AM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - A number of questions remain about Vermont’s latest effort to require K-12 students to provide information on multi-household gatherings and holiday travel as part of routine health screenings.

Millions of Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving. Many of them with just their immediate household. “It’s unfortunate not to see family for Thanksgiving this year, it’s very disappointing,” said Jessica Martin of Williamstown.

But some will gather in large groups. And that has Vermont public health officials worried. They say upwards of 70% of the state’s recent cases stem from similar gatherings.

In an effort to limit potential spread of the virus and keep schools open, officials Tuesday said schools can ask whether students attended a gathering over the break.

If it’s a yes, the student will have to switch to remote learning for two weeks or seven days with a negative COVID-19 test.

“We’re asking people to tell the truth to protect others. I don’t think it’s about tattling on anyone. And I’m not sure it’s all about the kids -- the parents play a role as well,” Governor Phil Scott said Tuesday.

Many people, like Martin, support the added precaution, saying it’s a necessary step to get the virus under control in Vermont. “I don’t think there’s a lot of options for schools to try to enforce it. So, they’re asking them to say did you -- and if not... they’re protecting the other students. It’s one more thing they can do to protect them,” she said.

“This stuff is serious, this COVID-19,” said one student.

“I’m a student myself and have Zoom classes -- I hate it. But you know what? It’s what we have to do to stay safe,” added another student.

But others say putting students in the middle puts just more stress on them. “They might not know if they did everything correctly and that might put stress on them. And parents might condition their students to say the right thing,” said Martina Anderson of Montpelier.

The Mount Abraham Unified School District is at least one district that says it won’t ask students the question.

Vt. Deputy Commerce Secretary Ted Brady says that as the hub of most communities, Vermonters look to schools for key guidance. “During the pandemic, schools have been at the heart of educating about what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable,” he said.

The governor is urging all employers to take a similar approach. But like other actions, there’s no concrete enforcement and Scott hopes all with do the right thing. He says this newest directive will be critical past Thanksgiving and into the holiday season. Whether it acts as an effective deterrent remains to be seen.

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Vt. officials push to continue in-person learning

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