Lamoille North Supervisory Union will begin the 2021 school year requiring universal masking indoors for all students, faculty and visitors to any of its schools within the district.
The guidelines were released in an Aug. 20 letter from Superintendent Catherine Gallagher informing students and families that the school board had voted to “require universal mask wearing for all while indoors until further notice, based on the recommendation of the Vermont Agency of Education and Vermont Department of Health.”
Gallagher noted that, with Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s declaration of a state of emergency no longer in effect, it fell to individual school districts to determine health guidelines. She noted that state and federal law allowed and mandated schools to act to protect the health of their students.
After a closed session at an Aug. 16 meeting that lasted for about 30 minutes, the school board voted to adopt this masking guidance for the upcoming school year.
Katie Orost, a school board representative from Johnson, noted that without adequate safety measures in place, the school district could be held liable. After conferring with the district’s lawyer, the board adopted Agency of Education’s mask guidance.
Patti Hayford, a board representative from Hyde Park, abstained from the vote.
The district includes Lamoille Union high and middle schools, the Green Mountain Technology and Career Center, and elementary schools in Cambridge, Eden, Hyde Park, Johnson and Waterville.
Full-time remote learning, which was employed during the last school year, is off the table this year. The school district does not plan on reverting to the hybrid system.
“Remote learning can happen only as it happened pre-COVID. That has to do with statute and attendance. We were given lots of waivers last year that no longer exist, because we are not in a state of emergency at this point,” Gallagher said.
According to state guidelines, schools will employ masks for the first few weeks of school and then, depending on virus outbreaks and the vaccination rate of teachers and students over the age of 12, that guidance might change.
“We’re going to be paying close attention to the guidance as it develops.” Gallagher said. “I think it's very difficult for schools to determine vaccination rates. I believe that that is something the department of health will take on.”
The department didn’t respond to a request about the vaccination rate for 12- to 18-year-olds in Lamoille County. According to data from the department, 69 percent of 12- to 15-year-olds have been vaccinated, 75 percent of 16- to 17-year-olds and 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds have been vaccinated statewide.
Gallagher said in an interview in April that all the district’s teachers who wanted to receive the COVID-19 vaccine had done so. The state does not mandate vaccines for teachers and other school officials.
What to expect
Agency of Education mask guidance adopted by the supervisory union requires all students, teachers and visitors to any of the district’s schools to wear masks while indoors and on school buses, to wash hands regularly and quarantine or isolate when showing symptoms of COVID-19.
The district asks families to contact their health-care provider immediately if symptoms arise, which include fever, sore throat, headache and a loss of smell and taste, and to contact the district’s nursing director, Flo Kelly, with any questions.
Though physical distancing in classrooms will no longer be enforced, it will still be encouraged while students are eating, a time when they need to remove masks.
Citing data that COVID-19 is less communicable in outdoor settings, masks and physical distancing will not be required during recess, despite the close contact that generally occurs during such time.
Proper airflow will be maintained in schools and on buses. Schools will be regularly cleaned and disinfected, and symptomatic individuals will still be isolated from staff and students until they are able to go home.
The district is planning to allow for a return to a normal schedule of athletics and extracurriculars.
The district is adhering to guidelines put forth in an International Coalition Performing Arts Aerosol Study updated in August, which recommends masks when possible, bell covers to prevent aerosol spread from certain instruments and physical distancing.