With COVID cases rising, will Vermont schools revisit remote learning?

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 6:08 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 13, 2021 at 7:05 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - COVID-19 case counts are up across Vermont and so are hospitalizations. But Vermont Education Secretary Dan French says even though hospitalizations are high, they are plateauing, so the state doesn’t want to send students back to a hybrid or remote learning model. It is however looking to improve contact tracing at school.

“We thought we would have a much easier year, typical school year. It’s not going to be a typical school year,” said Libby Bonesteel, the superintendent of the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools.

Two of Bonesteel’s fifth-grade classes have already switched to remote learning because of positive cases and issues with contact tracing.

But Bonesteel says the Vermont Agency of Education was right in planning for a typical school year because they didn’t see delta coming.

“The agency and school districts were bound flatfooted with the sudden spike, we weren’t ready for that, maybe we were in denial because last year was so hard,” Bonesteel said.

Vermont Education Secretary Dan French says there is a lot of case activity in schools.

“If there is virus in the community, there will be virus in the schools,” French said.

This has some schools taking action, like the Williston schools, telling families in an email it’s on them to help reduce the risk at school, “This could include skipping a planned concert or event - even if it is outdoors, rethinking that sleepover your child is asking you for, wearing a mask indoors when in public, postponing hosting or attending the birthday party for friends until virus activity substantially decreases...”

Secretary French admits there are more cases but the state is not creating plans to have schools move back to hybrid or fully remote learning.

“If there are additional steps to take, we won’t be shy about taking them. But I think our biggest concern right now is contact tracing,” French said.

Schools had been waiting for the health department to tell them which students are vaccinated because under CDC guidance if someone is vaccinated and asymptomatic, they are not considered a close contact.

But in some cases, contact tracing took so long, it took the health department days to get back to the schools about cases.

During Tuesday’s weekly COVID news briefing with the governor and Vermont administration officials, French will be announcing new recommendations as well for automatic quarantine in cafeterias and playground areas.

“All of this is about getting more focused on how we do contact tracing,” French said.

French points out this is the first time Vermont’s 80,000 students have all been back in school together since the beginning of the pandemic, and people need to begin learning how to live with the virus.

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