Vermont school officials to ask Gov. Phil Scott to impose statewide mask mandate

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Some Vermont school officials are calling on Gov. Phil Scott to require masks in schools and indoors in parts of the state where there is substantial or high rates of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.

At least two school superintendents and others are planning an event Tuesday to highlight their concerns that the state isn’t doing enough to combat the spread of the delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19.

They are the latest in a growing group of officials to call on the state to do more to fight COVID-19.

Currently, the Vermont Agency of Education is recommending that schools require masks for the first 10 days of school. The requirement could be lifted once a school reaches 80% of its population being vaccinated.

Children under age 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated.

Earlier this month at least five groups, including the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital, called for universal masking in schools until children 12 become eligible to be vaccinated.

Last month, more than 90 employees of the Vermont Health Department urged the state to do more to fight the surge in COVID-19 cases.

For some parents, that has meant sending kids to school without any mask requirements in place.

The Canaan School District is the only district in Vermont that isn’t requiring students and staff to wear masks, and while they’re recommended, that’s done little to ease some parents’ concern with the Delta variant still spreading across the state.

“It created exactly what we knew it was going to create, it created more inequities, particularly for our rural areas and particularly for kids who are our most vulnerable here,” said Kate Larose.

Larose will join Tuesday’s event calling on Scott to implement a statewide mask mandate in schools and indoor settings where transmission is high.

Anne Sosin, a policy fellow at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College, will also speak. She emphasized the contrast between this fall for students and what conditions were like at this point last year.

“Last year, Vermont started the year on a day with only 5 cases, and it had really strong guidance in place that included universal masking,” Sosin said. “This year, we have a 7 day rolling average that’s about 30 times higher than it was last year. We have a variant that’s twice as transmissible.”

Last month, the Canaan School Board voted to reject that guidance, saying they would only require that students wear masks on school buses.

For Larose, that created an environment she wasn’t comfortable with.

“We are actually, between my husband and I, driving over four hours a day to get him to another school that does have masking. We’re pretty isolated over here, so getting him to a school that does have masking takes awhile. It’s going to probably be a 5 hour drive in the winter, but he gets to go to school,” Larose said. “We had to explain to him that he doesn’t get to go to the school a block down the street, that he doesn’t get to see any of his friends.”

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