Vt. officials to consider CDC school-distancing guidance

Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 6:20 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - All of Vermont’s middle and high school students now have a possible path back to full in-person learning in light of new CDC guidelines that say it’s safe for older students to learn three-feet apart.

Vermont educators we spoke with were happy to hear Friday’s new CDC guidance. Most of Vermont’s K-5 schools have already been successfully learning at a three-foot distance. Now, K-12 could begin, if the state goes along with the recommendations.

“If the school decided that’s going to work, I’m fine with it,” said Siegrid Mertens, who has three children -- a fifth-grader at the Orwell Village School, and a 9th grader and senior at Fair Haven Union High School. She says the kids wear masks and take precautions. “They’re safe in school. It’s better for them.”

Rutland City Public Schools K-9 students have been attending in person five days a week. With rules keeping older students 6- feet apart, most schools don’t have enough room to have everyone in the class at once. They’ve been forced to use a hybrid model.

Rutland High School Principal Greg Schillinger says he’s excited to get the 10th, 11th, and 12th graders back in class full-time too. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s gonna be good,” he said. He’s also looking forward to hearing specifics on staying six-feet apart in communal spaces and if rooms will have capacity numbers, but that he’s confident everyone can make it work. “‘I’ll do what I need to do if I can be back on campus with my friends.’ I think it will be challenging. We will have some work to do to figure some things out, but we’ve been here before.”

VT-NEA president Don Tinney says the state still needs to be cautious. “Why would you change things now? We’ve been incredibly successful and we still have the virus spreading throughout the state and our schools,” he said. Tinney says Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine is the right person to be studying this and the decision needs to be based on science.

Schools are eligible for the three-foot rule if they are not in a community with a high transmission rate. If that follows the same guidelines as long-term care facilities, it would be 10% or greater. “Which we don’t see in Vermont anyway, and that would mean schools in Vermont, at any level, would be eligible for the three-foot rule,” Levine said.

He says this would allow students back in person, something they need educationally and emotionally.

“That’s a game-changer. I see no reason why we wouldn’t be back in in-person,” said Gov. Phil Scott.

State education officials say they will consider possible changes in the coming weeks.

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