Vt. schools can require masks to protect vulnerable students

While many COVID-19 protocols are dropped in Vermont’s schools, leaders were reminded accommodations need to be made for medically vulnerable students.
Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 8:31 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 8, 2022 at 9:56 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - While many COVID-19 protocols have been dropped in Vermont’s schools, leaders are being reminded that accommodations must be made for medically vulnerable students.

“Schools may need to implement masking or other mitigation measures as a reasonable accommodation for students who are medically vulnerable,” Vt. Education Secretary Dan French wrote in a letter to superintendents and heads of independent schools.

In an interview, French said protecting vulnerable students is not new and federal regulations have been in place for decades. He did say that this protocol is new relative to COVID-19.

French said the decisions for accommodations, like masking in schools, would be made by the school nurses, parents and the child’s physician, and he said every student and situation would likely be unique.

“These kinds of decisions are based on medical expertise or based on the specific circumstances of the school environment. They’re also based on the specific needs of the child and those can change over time. So it is the challenging thing of putting out a memo on this type of topic is that on the one hand, it’s as I mentioned, it’s very specific to the needs of the student and very specific to the needs of the school. On the other hand, people are looking for a general statement as to what to sort of guardrails on having these conversations,” French said.

French said he sent the memo as a reminder about the guidance since the CDC released new COVID-19 recommendations for schools this year.

He related the concept of masking for medically vulnerable students to accommodating students with peanut allergies, where different environments create different accommodations.

“I think the other side of it is the specific physical environment, the specific classroom environment that has to be factored in. You know, back to the peanut allergy idea. A student could be in one environment where that’s the case and then moved to another school and it’s not necessarily the same accommodations, or sometimes allergies change over the years and so forth,” French explained.

WCAX News reached out to nearly every public school superintendent in the state and heard back from around a dozen, all of whom said this scenario has not yet arisen but many echoed the idea that accommodating the medically vulnerable is nothing new.