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Vt. district dismayed by state’s confusing return-to-school guidance

Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 6:23 PM EST
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont schools have been told to adopt new CDC isolation and quarantine guidance but the state has yet to provide any details, creating confusion for some districts.

”It’s definitely been a puzzle to figure out,” Slate Valley Unified Union School District Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell said of the new CDC rules. She says the lack of consistency has caused confusion. “Layers within the Department of Health are communicating different messages to school nurses. The AOE is communicating different messages.”

Don Tinney, president of the Vermont-NEA, says reentry after the holiday break is always stressful but this year has been more chaotic than usual. “It will require that everybody get on the same page and that weight is really on the shoulders of our administrators and the Scott administration,” he said.

That confusion is shared by Jennie Gartner, a parent of a fourth-grader in the Rutland City School District. “I just want to make sure the schools are given the tools they need and the staff and faculty are given the tools that they need, because they are already being asked to do so much all the time that the idea that the state is just going to kind of let them figure it out on their own is so incomprehensible to me,” she said.

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says the CDC’s new general guidance did not include schools. “When CDC very abruptly came out with the new guidance, it had everybody totally off-kilter, including schools and educators,” he said.

Tuesday morning, Olsen-Farrel says she was told by the health department that her schools could not continue to participate in the Test to Stay program, but then was told in the afternoon it can continue.

The national quarantine guidelines are changing depending on vaccination status and whether someone is a close contact or tests positive and new guidance for boosters in kids is also under consideration. Levine says his department is in the middle of developing a policy for kids. “We’re going to talk about contact tracing in more detail in the near future,” he said.

But because schools now need to know if students received their booster and when they had their second dose of the vaccine, contact tracing is taking even longer than before.

“We just had one case this afternoon and that ended up being 25 close contacts. We don’t even have time to call all of those close contacts before we’re hit with another case,” Olsen-Farrell said. She says the state is answering her questions but that universal guidance for all schools is still needed. “Our staff is all pitching in, taking it in stride and doing the very very best that they can.”

Slate Valley schools will be doing Test to Stay Wednesday. Olsen-Farrell says they are also asking families and staff to do their own antigen testing on day four and five if they are quarantined but many are having a hard time finding tests.

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Back after winter break: School districts brace for high COVID case counts

Not all Vermont students able to participate in Test to Stay

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