Masks recommended in all Vermont schools

Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 9:35 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 3, 2021 at 6:59 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont education officials Tuesday announced that masks will be recommended in all schools this fall for at least the first several weeks.

It will soon be back-to-school time for Vermont students and state education officials expect it to be fully in-person. “We anticipate the fall will be a full in-person return to the classroom with nominal if any mitigation strategies, if any, in our schools to require their safety,” said Vermont Education Secretary Dan French Tuesday.

For the first few weeks of school, the state is recommending districts mandate students and teachers wear masks regardless of vaccination status. It’s still not clear whether students can be barred from school for breaking the rules though.

French says once the student vaccination rate among students in a school reaches 80%, the state is advising districts to make masks optional for those vaccinated.

State health officials say masks are still advised to be mandatory for students under 12 that remain ineligible to be vaccinated. “Contact tracing is going to continue as it always has. It was particularly robust in the school setting,” said Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

About 65% of 12 to 15 year-olds in Vermont currently have at least one shot and over 72% of 16 to 17-year-olds do. Levine acknowledges that infections will pop up in schools just as they did last year. “Yet schools continued to operate. We had a lot of our students in in-person learning and I expect the same now. Again, the delta variant is a little different but it is still the same coronavirus that we all know,’ he said.

Levine says the one major difference now is that there are two very effective tools to prevent spread - vaccines and masks.

The state can’t issue a top-down mandate because there’s no state of emergency. The Vermont-NEA, the union representing most teachers, says they support the recommendations, but also want clear communication from districts too. “And that the school boards and superintendents make it clear to students, staff, and families -- make it clear this is what we’re going to follow and it will be clear when that will change,” said Don Tinney, the union’s president.

Vermonters we spoke with also support the plan. “I trust our administration to do what’s right. I follow it very closely and I’m never disappointed,” said Sharon Morris of Montpelier.

Starting next week and running through October, the state will hold vaccination clinics targeted towards 12 to 18-year-olds.

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