Are Vermont schools too understaffed to test students for COVID?

Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 5:44 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Some Vermont school officials are casting doubt on a plan to increase COVID testing as a way to keep kids in the classroom. It’s in response to the state’s new “test-to-stay” program, which involves daily testing if unvaccinated students and staff are exposed to COVID-19.

It has caused mixed feelings among teachers and superintendents.

The new program adds to both in-school and take-home testing that schools are already trying to manage. Everyone I have spoken to says testing is a good idea but having staff available to administer the tests is difficult.

“Everything is kind of logistically challenging at the moment, but we’re going to work hard to figure that out,” said David Young, the superintendent of the South Burlington School District.

Young is in favor of using test-to-stay in order to keep students in school. He is determining a location to test students to avoid mingling with others at school or on a bus, potentially infecting others.

“There will probably be a little bit of delay in getting them to school on time, but that is a whole lot better than being out for seven or 14 days,” Young said.

Christina Deeley is a librarian and social studies teacher at Champlain Valley Union High School.

Deeley admits testing is a way to keep nonsymptomatic kids in school rather than quarantining but she says schools are already understaffed and she doesn’t understand how the state expects them to add this to their already full plate.

“They’re already having to do their own contact tracing. Administrators and school nurses are spending their nights and weekends doing contact tracing because the state is not able to do it,” Deeley said.

The Vermont Agency of Education says none of these options are required but they are strongly encouraged, adding Vermont could be different but Massachusetts is two weeks into their program and already seeing low positivity rates.

“Most kids who would otherwise be at home in quarantine, they show up to school, they take the antigen test, the test comes back negative and they go about their school day,” said Ted Fisher of the Vermont Agency of Education.

Fisher says the AOE has asked schools if they need resources and he says districts have money through federal COVID funding to hire additional people to assist with testing.

In the St. Johnsbury School District, Superintendent Brian Ricca says his staff is looking into the testing options and may use that federal funding to hire help. But he still wants to see the state play more of a role.

“It continues to feel like the weight of all of this mitigation is falling to schools,” Ricca said.

The state is also looking into consent forms to send to families since they are not obligated to take part in this testing. They are expected to release more information on that soon.

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