Vt. to allow 3-foot distancing in schools; COVID surge prompts student testing

Published: Apr. 1, 2021 at 12:45 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 2, 2021 at 5:35 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - New school guidance to be announced next week will allow three-foot distancing for older students, a move to help get more Vermont students back in the classroom. But it comes as some schools are struggling with COVID outbreaks and are requiring students to provide a negative test after they test positive.

The Essex Westford School District, one of the largest in the state, has had a jump in COVID cases, sending some schools into remote learning. “We do have cases throughout our district,” said Superintendent Beth Cobb. She says the Summit Street, Thomas Flemming, and Albert D. Lawton schools are all remote this week. Staff is sanitizing classrooms and facilities and looking to bring back kids next week. “Our high school is hybrid, our middle school is hybrid and our elementary schools are four days a week.”

The district will also now require a negative test when a student tests positive after they quarantine for seven days, or students will have to quarantine for 14 days without a test. “That only protects our community and the spread that’s within Essex,” Cobb said.

The Summit Street School in Essex Junction.
The Summit Street School in Essex Junction.(WCAX)

And those who have tested positive previously will need a medical clearance waiver from their doctor if they want to play sports. At the same time, the state is planning on rolling out new guidance from the CDC saying all students can sit three feet apart instead of six. That will help districts overcome classroom capacity limits that have prevented full in-person learning for middle and high school students.

Education Secretary Dan French says warmer weather and more vaccines on the way give leaders the confidence to move forward, despite the current surge in cases. “To quote Wayne Gretzky, ‘Good hockey players play where the puck is going to be, not where it is right now,’” French said.

Cobb is planning ahead by ordering tents for outdoor classrooms when it warms up. But even with the three-foot rule, she isn’t sure the district will be able to pull off full in-person learning, especially if cases remain high. “We do worry that in a lot of our buildings, we can’t do the three-foot distancing,” she said.

When exactly the new distancing guidelines will take effect will be released next week.

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