Vt. school nurses weigh in on state's reopening plans

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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) A day after Vermont education officials gave initial guidance on what the reopening of schools, the nurses who will likely be tasked with carrying out many of the critical safety changes weighed in.

More than 200 school nurses from around the state took part Thursday morning in a Vermont State School Nurses' Association town meeting to clear up any confusion around the new plans and discuss potential problem areas.

"Your job as the school nurse is more vital than ever," the association's Soph Hall told participants. Hall and pediatrician Dr. Breena Holmes walked everyone through the current school guidance draft.

"The CDC says almost nothing. It's just a nice light guidance that you should set your school up to be clean and have some hygiene," Holmes said.

She emphasized that a more complete version written by doctors, the education secretary, and a task force is being released Monday and that other revisions will continue during the school year.

In the latest draft, middle and high school students are required to wear masks that go over the ears and around their chin. It is only a recommendation for students in elementary school.

"This is hard, but I am here to tell you it is the single best way to prevent the spread of the virus, so we are kind of stuck. None of us wanted this virus, none of us brought this virus, but we need to get back to school, we need to wear these darn things," Holmes said.

Another concern is taking temperatures. It's being left to schools to decide whether families, a bus monitor, or someone at the entrance of the school will take temperatures daily.

It's still not clear what happens if a student getting on the bus has a temperature and the parents are not home, or how to supply enough thermometers. Any student with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher must stay home and must be temperature free for 24 hours without medication before they can return.

"No more attendance awards. We're encouraging sick kids to stay home. And we're working on truancy law -- how many days beyond which if a kid is absent they get in trouble. We have to be really careful about that in COVID," Holmes said.

Other guidelines that are being discussed include increasing bus routes, staggering drop-off and pick-up and encouraging caretakers to drive students if possible.

Students will stay in the same groupings of 25 or less and that is including the teacher.

Playgrounds can be open with deep cleaning and an outside sanitizing station.

No volunteers, visitors, or field trips. And classrooms should be evaluated, as rugs and cloth chairs are hard to clean and could hold the virus.

The Vermont NEA released a statement calling the reopening announcement 'unfortunate' because planning is not complete.

They released their own list of requirements to restart school including routine testing, mandatory use of PPE and nurses in very school building.

Some Vermont schools don't have a dedicated nurses so the Nurses Association says they are looking to the Medical Reserve Corp to help fill that need.

The state's final draft for reopening schools is due on Monday.