By Guy Page
As of Monday morning, one Rutland supervisory union and a South Burlington parochial high school have announced they will go mask-free. Also, some schools the Essex-Westford supervisory union may be mask free by mid-March.
Schools with 80% vaccination rates may lift the universal mask mandate, Gov. Phil Scott announced a new state ‘direction’ last week. However, many school districts are well below the 80% mark, especially in elementary schools.
Rice Memorial High School, a private Catholic school located in South Burlington, will go mask-free when students return from winter break Monday, February 28. “After two years of the pandemic, we are excited to take this important first step in our path to normalcy,” a statement on the school website says. “We feel confident in this decision because the school has over a 90% vaccination rate, and we believe that the freedom of not wearing masks is beneficial for students on many levels.”
Rice parent and local physician Alicia Cunningham added: “There are many downsides to masks – especially in the realm of education. Masks inhibit clear communication, expression, social interaction, recognition of faces, and neurodevelopment. And in doing so, rob us of other vital components of health.
As reported Friday, February 18, The superintendent of the Slate Valley Unified School District has announced masks will no longer be required as of Monday, March 7.
“I will be removing the masking mandate for the Slate Valley Schools, effective March 7th,” Brooke Olsen-Farrell said in a Feb. 15 letter. “That being said, due to federal regulations, masks will still be required on school buses. Certainly, anyone who wishes to continue to wear a mask may do so. We have KN95 masks available for staff and students. We have moved to a time of personal responsibility in the management of this virus. Therefore, the decisions will be left to the discretion of families and individuals for the time being.”
Olsen-Farrell listed these reasons for the decision:
- Despite our very best efforts, mask compliance is now a daily challenge for staff, administrators, and educators to enforce.
- Masks are not being worn by the overwhelming majority of individuals outside of school.
- The CDC recommends KN95/N95 masks, and we do not require these in our schools. Therefore if we are not mandating KN95/N95 masks then why would we mandate them at all.
- COVID will be with us indefinitely. We can not predict the length, nor intensity, of the virus as it changes throughout the United States or Vermont.
- Additionally, our students would benefit socially/emotionally from mask removal. Some of our students have never been in school with the ability to see their classmates’ faces, or their teachers.
In response to a Vermont Daily Chronicle email to Vermont superintendents, several other supervisory unions indicated they are waiting for state data on their schools’ vaccination rates.
North Country Supervisory Union Superintendent John Castle: “NCSU will maintain our current approach to universal masking in schools. At present, no NCSU schools have reached the 80% student vaccination rate recommended to make the shift. NCUHS is just above 60%, NCUJHS is just under 60% and our elementary schools are all below 30%. We will continue to consider the guidance provided by the AOE and VDH as we determine our approach within NCSU.”
Essex-Westford School District Supt. Beth Cobb: “We are waiting to have our vaccination rates verified by the AOE, hopefully soon. Our intentions are to work to have the mask mandate lifted in EWSD in mid-March. I don’t think we have an 80% vaccination rate in our elementary schools and will need to decide how to approach them. We are above 80% at ADL, EMS, and EHS. I also want to see how sports are handling masking consistently across the state as well as any other guidelines. After the December Break, we had a lot of positive cases, I hope we don’t see that after this current break.”
Grand Isle Supervisory Union Supt. Michael Clark: “ GISU will follow the state guidance. In order to answer your question we have to know our official vaccination rate. My understanding is the state may release that later this week.”
Caledonia Central Supervisory Union Supt. Mark Tucker: “None of the schools in CCSU are anywhere near achieving the 80% eligible student vaccination level. So, at this time the changing guidance does not apply to us, and when we return from vacation on March 2, we will still have an indoor mask requirement in our schools.”
Orange East Supervisory Union Supt. Emilie Knisely: “We are not [lifting the mandate] at this time. We are awaiting written AOE guidance.”