By Katy Savage
The Agency of Education is recommending schools treat Covid like any other illness this year. Testing and masks will not be required and those with mild symptoms can stay in school.
The agency released updated Covid guidelines in a memo on Aug. 10. The memo puts emphasis on school nurses determining if a student or staff member with mild symptoms is well enough to attend school.
“As we begin to think of Covid-19 as an endemic disease, we once again need to shift our thinking,” Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said in a press release with the memo. “Covid-19, like the flu, is now a part of our lives.
“This will be important as we get into the winter months,” Levine continued, “since the presentation of mild respiratory disease symptoms including a runny nose, nasal congestion, minimal cough, and absence of fever, can enable a student or staff member to stay in school provided they have no current or recent household exposure to Covid-19.”
Windsor Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Sherry Sousa said she’s not making assumptions about how the virus will affect students or staff.
“I’m ready to start school, we’re ready to go back,” she said. “As we’ve heard from the CDC and others, this is not something we can predict. We put policies in place that we believe will keep students and staff safe and then we see what happens because no one has the playbook for this pandemic.”
Rutland City Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Rob Bliss said students will be asked to go home if they’re sick.
“It’s not much different (from last year),” he said. “We can no longer insist or require that people get tested any more, so that’s part of the deal. We’ll be watching the symptoms.”
Schools have been provided a supply of antigen and LAMP tests. Both in-school and take-home testing will be available. Decisions about when to test, and what test to use will be up to the “clinical judgment” of school nurses, according to the memo. Parents must sign a consent form if they want their child tested for Covid in school. The memo states that a second Covid test “should” be sent home with an ill student, though testing is not required to attend school.
Nurses will determine if sick students being sent home should wear a mask while awaiting pickup. The state advises that schools continue to have isolation spaces if a student needs to isolate due to illness.
As the state is urging districts to rely on nurses, Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Kristin Hubert said nurses are used to being on the front lines.
“We have had students sick in school for 100 years,” she said
Hubert said nurses are “natural decision makers” when it comes to illnesses.
“That’s always been the job of the school nurse,” Hubert said. “That’s always been up to their discretion.”
What might be different, Hubert said, is the nurse may recommend wearing a mask now in order to protect others.
“A nurse might say, ‘You’re really are sneezing a lot or not feeling well, you may want to wear a mask,’” Hubert said.
Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Christine Bourne said she met with the school nurses in her district as soon as she received the state guidelines.
“They are like heroes,” she said. “They have worked so hard with our families. Our families have been super supportive.”
With protocols are in place, Bourne said and the district would wait to “see how it goes.”
“This is their expertise, they’re going to make the right decisions,” Bourne added.
Don Tinney, the president of the Vermont National Education Association, said some nurses have concerns going into the school year because they’re not full staffed.
“That has become a challenge,” he said.
“We are definitely in a transition period between pandemic and endemic,” Tinney said. “It’s going to take us a while to figure out exactly what the best approach is given how the virus has changed.”
Slate Valley Unified School District Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell, like others, said she’s excited for the return of school despite the lingering pandemic.
“I’m fine with (the guidelines), I put them out in our community and our community seems fine as well,” she said.