MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — State officials say the rapidly spreading omicron variant is running laps around testing and contact tracing in schools. School district leaders spoke with Vermont lawmakers about how their schools are handling new guidance about contact tracing.
The latest guidance halts the use of contact tracing and PCR surveillance testing. Instead, responsibility will shift from the school to the parents. The state Agency of Education warned superintendents about imminent changes late last week, a move teachers felt could have used a bit more context.
“It felt like to them that one of these very important layers of the multi-layered approach to protecting students and educators from COVID was being taken away,” said Don Tinney, president of the Vermont-NEA.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine and Education Secretary Dan French told the Senate Education Committee that contact tracing has just become more conservative and comprehensive. A process that had most of the school nurse workforce ready to quit at any moment is just adapting to unprecedented case counts.
“Instead of our nurses and our leaders spending time looking at seating charts and bus lists and interviewing staff and students about something that happened five days ago, more people are actually finding out that they might’ve had an exposure, not necessarily that they were within six feet,” said Lynn Cota, Superintendent of the Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union.
The initial confusion of the new guidelines prompted a meeting between the Agency of Education and the Vermont-NEA, and while hearing the science behind these changes smoothed over a lot of uncertainty, the state’s largest union still has some unmet conditions, such as giving districts more flexibility in responding to an outbreak.
“We need superintendents at the local level to be able to make decisions on the health and safety of their school community, to pivot to either closing the school or going remote temporarily to address the local needs of their school district,” said Jeff Fannon, Executive Director of Vermont-NEA.
The Vermont-NEA also wants to ensure all students and staff can access rapid testing, not just the unvaccinated. They also want high-quality masks distributed to every school in the state.