OSSU Provides Update for School Opening

by Doug McClure
data via CDC | As of Sunday, only Orange County in Vermont has a “moderate” level of COVID transmission, according to the CDC. Hardwick and Caledonia County and now considered to have “substantial” community transmission, in which the CDC recommends wearing masks indoors. Neighboring Coos County in New Hampshire is also considered to have “high” community transmission. (COVID community transmission levels: red = high, orange = substantial, yellow = moderate)

MONTPELIER – The Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union (OSSU) issued a statement about what the return to school at the end of this month will look like regarding COVID protocols.

The update comes after the CDC now has the entire Northeast Kingdom listed as having “high” or “substantial” transmission, and two residents have reportedly died in Orleans County in the past two weeks. Vermont has regularly been reporting over a hundred new cases a day statewide. 

The bulk of cases in Caledonia County are teenagers and children, with vaccination rates for 16-17-year-olds at 62.9% and 12-15 year-olds at 55.7%. In Orleans County, the vaccination rates for children is still in the mid-forties. Children under twelve cannot be vaccinated and FDA approval for that is not expected until late fall or early winter.

Citing the rise of the Delta variant, the OSSU statement reads, “we will continue health protocols around ventilation, cleaning, and sending individuals home when sick or symptomatic.” 

The OSSU statement continues, stating that “to protect our unvaccinated youth, as we start the school year all students and adults will be masking when indoors and on school buses, regardless of vaccination status.”

The CDC’s updated guidance reads that, “Given new evidence on the B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant…  CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place.”

The Agency of Education (AOE) recently issued a two-page “COVID-19 Prevention Measures for Fall 2021.” However, as noted in a Gazette article from last week, several area superintendents stated that they found the AOE’s memo lacking in clarity and detail. One example cited by several superintendents was the AOE’s instructions regarding masking. The AOE memo instructed schools to mask for a short period until 80% of students were vaccinated, without telling the schools how to measure the rate of vaccination. 

Vaccines, however, continue to be a critical part of this discussion. Speaking as a parent, Andrew Meyer said, “If we want to have in-school learning versus remote then we need to have a shared responsibility around vaccinations. The consequences on our students’ education and physical and mental health are far too great not to have the expectation that all students aged 12 above and adults get vaccinated.”

It is unclear whether the state can mandate COVID vaccinations at the moment. OSSU Superintendent Adam Rosenberg has previously said “To my knowledge, we can’t require anyone to be vaccinated.” 

Hazen Union Principal Jason Di Giulio said, “As always, Hazen depends on our close partnership with our communities to help our youth. We want the school to be as open as it can be, for as long as it can be, and we hope our community members do, as well. While the COVID vaccines do not yet seem to be required by law, they do seem to be necessary to help us return to a more safe, more open, and more interactive way of school. We hope to leave the dangers of COVID and the masks behind, but only our communities can help us do that.”

The state already has the force of law to mandate other vaccinations for students. The AOE’s immunization guidance states:

“According to Vermont law, in order to attend a school or childcare facility, students must have received the required vaccines, provide a current exemption form, or be provisionally admitted. All provisionally admitted students must be fully immunized within six months following enrollment or submit a signed medical or religious exemption form to the school.”

Among the required vaccines to attend a Vermont school is the polio vaccine, and according to the most recent data about COVID’s transmissibility, the Delta variant is more transmissible than polio. COVID vaccines are being administered at the Hardwick Area Health Center on Mondays, 7:30 a.m., to 11:30 a.m., and on Wednesdays from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m., and walk-ins are welcome. Walgreens also does vaccinations. Testing is at the fire station on Mondays 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and on Wednesdays 1:30 to 5:30 p.m., with walk-ins also welcome, and appointments can be pre-scheduled online at healthvermont.gov.