On August 18, 2021

School district wrestles with Covid in the classroom

By Curt Peterson

The Windsor Central Unified Union School District convened a special board meeting Monday night, still on a “hybrid” regimen — about half the participants were present in the Middle School library, while the other half attended remotely via Zoom. The formula worked, although Chair Bryce Sammel (Barnard) had to wait 18 minutes for a quorum to appear.

Sept. 1 will be the first full day of school on WCUUSD campuses. For months, parents, staff and district employees have been waiting for, and speculating about, what the Agency of Education (AoE) guidance would look like, as the Delta variant has wrought spikes in Covid cases, including in Vermont.

The board’s first action was a motion regarding how campuses will respond to the agency’s Aug. 4 Covid-19 Advisory Memorandum regarding the latest guidance for re-opening Vermont’s public schools this fall.

The memorandum advises requiring indoor masking by all staff and students for the first 10 in-class school days, “To allow school districts time to calculate the percentage of currently eligible students who have received two doses of a two-dose vaccine.”

Students under 12 years of age, and those medically exempt or exempt for religious reasons, are not among those currently “eligible” for vaccination. They won’t count against the 80% measurement, but they, and their teachers, will have to continue masking.

Once the campus population reaches 80% vaccination status, indoor masking requirements will no longer be suggested, the memo states.

Getting into the weeds, district Superintendent Sherry Sousa said WUUSD vaccination rates and responding requirements will be measured on a per-building basis — that is, the Middle/High School complex community will stand on its own, as most students are eligible for the Covid-19 vaccination. The Prosper Valley School, which includes grades 5 and 6, however, has approximately half of its student population ineligible by age. In that case, the district will only consider removing masks for students and faculty when all students reach the 80% threshold recommended by the agency.

Masks should not be required outdoors, according to the guidance.

“Masks are currently required for all passengers on buses per federal regulation, regardless of age or vaccination status,” however.

The board’s motion, approved unanimously, specifically cited the AoE memo, affirming district adherence. In addition, the motion proposed giving the superintendent authority, with board approval, to amend and adjust requirements in the district as developing conditions warrant.

The Dept. of Health continues to provide vaccination opportunities at schools throughout the state on a regular basis, supporting districts preparing for resumption of classes.

Existing instructions for responding to in-school discovery of new Covid cases continue, including isolation until a student can be safely returned home.

And “surveillance testing” for students and staff is supported, as well as contact tracing.

The AoE goal is “to maintain full in-person instruction throughout the school year.” To achieve that goal, parents are asked to keep their children home if they have Covid symptoms, show a fever of 100.4 or above, are in quarantine for exposure to Covid-positive persons, or have tested positive for the virus, whether symptomatic or not.

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