BURLINGTON, VA (WCAX) – Driven by an omicron and post-holiday COVID boom, the Vermont Education Agency just dropped a policy shift that will change how schools contain the spread of the virus.
The new directives will stop two key safety measures – PCR testing and contact tracing.
Summary of the new rapid response test program and a letter sent to school administrators Friday night directing: If a student tests positive, the school will notify the families of all children in that class. Children who have been vaccinated and who are in close contact with them can still go to school, and no testing is required. On the other hand, free at-home kits containing five rapid antigen tests will be offered to unvaccinated employees and students who are in close contact. These individuals can continue to attend school if they report a negative result on each of the five days. School nurses can test anyone in the school community who shows symptoms at school using a rapid antigen test or LAMP test. Students who show symptoms should stay home or send them home.
Secretary Dan French wrote that the country’s current strategy is no longer useful. That’s because the high-speed variant spreads too quickly, he says, and PCR tests can’t keep up.
But many parents and educators disagree and say this is a bad decision.
“It was hard as a parent and hard as a teacher,” said Ann Berno Browning, a Winowski Middle and High School teacher and mother.
“We all know the importance of having our children in school for a variety of reasons, but there are many parents, and most parents, who are still concerned about sending their children to school,” Berno Browning said.
She adds that omicron has already caused havoc in our school system, stressing staff and state resources.
“It kind of gives me peace of mind when taking the exam at school, and I know it gives teachers peace of mind,” said Caitlin Brewer of Montpellier, the mother of a second grader.
Breuer says she is angry at the shift in policy and argues that abandoning contact tracing and PCR testing will only shift the heavy burden of containing the virus from schools to parents.
“I really feel like it’s going to cause a huge mess, which is a really bad idea,” Brewer said.
Christina Daley, a CVU High School library teacher and mother of four, says she doubts this new directive will effectively keep kids in school.
“Of course we want to keep it open, but if we want to keep it open, we want to take it seriously. We need to upgrade probation testing, not cancel it. We need to hand out free KN95 masks to our students, faculty, and staff,” Dele said.
Some parents also say they don’t trust all families to follow protocols properly, putting those who stick to the rules at risk.
“We’ve taken a layered approach to mitigating this virus, and it’s as if one of those layers has been removed,” said Don Tenney, president of the Vermont National Education Association, the state’s teachers union.
The organization criticized the decision, calling it a “moral slap to the thousands of Vermonters who work in our schools, who attend our schools, and who are parents of students in our schools.”
Tene says teachers have just endured a “horrific” week with cases rising and schools closed, and the overwhelming feeling among members is frustration.
“We need to understand how the next step is, and what the new process is, to make sure that students and the teachers they serve are protected,” said Tenney.
The French minister says the changes are being made with the support of infectious disease experts in Vermont.
So, we asked Dr. Tim Lahey of UVM Medical Center for his opinion.
He writes to us in a statement: “The shift away from contact tracing, while I understand it may be disconcerting to some, is merely a pragmatic response to the reality of the explosive spread of infection in the community. Whether a management plan enforced through this reality makes sense depends on The details I’m hearing we’ll learn next week. A few days of suspense are acceptable in fast-moving situations as long as schools and parents get the information in time to know what to do.”
The education agency said it will release more details about the program next week.
Meanwhile, Vermont House Speaker Jill Kroensky wrote in a tweet that lawmakers pledged to hear testimony about what she called a “worrying decision.”
Read VT-NEA’s full statement:
An abrupt end to key health and safety measures ‘moral blow’ for Vermont teachers
The Vermont-NEA board is criticizing the state’s decision to abandon contact tracing and surveillance testing with vague promises of more guidance next week.
Montpellier – In response to last night’s announcement that the state will abandon two key elements to mitigate the spread of COVID in our schools, the board of directors of the state’s largest union today issued the following statement:
The education secretary decided to celebrate one of the most chaotic weeks ever for Vermont schools with another announcement Friday night of another sudden shift in COVID policy. Yesterday’s announcement that schools should stop contact tracing and surveillance testing — with the promise of more guidance next week — is a frustrating slap in the face to the thousands of Vermonters who work in our schools, who attend our schools, and who are parents of students in our schools.
In one week, we’ve seen the cumulative effect of inconsistent, shifting, and confusing guidance as schools struggle to keep up with a virus that’s not waiting for a response. Schools are closed. Parents struggled. The educators were exhausted – and weak in the face of the rapidly increasing number of cases.
The goal of contact tracing and monitoring testing was to provide local officials with the information they needed to make sound decisions about how safe their schools are. The abrupt end of these measures — with the promise of something “better” — has left us feeling that Vermont officials are exposing teachers, administrators and parents to greater and greater risks.
Vermont teachers are already doing everything they can to ensure in-school education for Vermont students. They do so despite serious concerns about their personal safety, and despite anger and frustration at sudden, and sometimes seemingly, deaf transitions into safety guidelines.
We must make sure that all schools are equipped with the tools – testing and more – needed to mitigate the spread of this virus.
We have ensured that a multi-layered approach to COVID safety in our schools gives us, our students and our communities the best chance of being safe. But since the school year began, we have seen a gradual shift in school health and safety to the emergence of parents and teachers on the front lines. By announcing the end of contact tracing and surveillance testing, the state baffled us to strip two important layers of security with only vague assurances of something better. this is unacceptable.
The Vermont-NEA Board of Directors believes that the health and safety of our members — and the students who teach them — must come first. We will let the governor, the education secretary, and local school administrators know that Vermont school staff — who have been among the front-line heroes of this pandemic — deserve better than the late-night political shifts that will continue to sow chaos in our neighborhood. schools.
Vermont teachers have been in Vermont throughout the pandemic. It’s been a long time since Vermont leaders are there for our teachers.
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