FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: PROGRESSIVES CALL FOR IMMEDIATE STRONGER COVID SUPPORTS FOR VERMONT SCHOOLS
CONTACT Selene Colburn Progressive Caucus Chair SColburn@leg.state.vt.us (802) 233-1358
This pandemic has been long and grueling for all of us. This school year has been the most challenging of many educators’ and school employees’ careers. Schools are the bedrock of our communities and they need help. A lack of clear statewide guidance and support from Governor Scott and the Vermont Agency of Education since the beginning of this school year has resulted in fear, anxiety and difficulty across Vermont schools for all—teachers, administrators, staff, students and parents. The highly contagious Omicron variant has presented a new challenge. Late last week, the Agency of Education announced new guidance that ceases contact tracing and shifts responsibility for testing to children and families, with limited amounts of rapid tests to be distributed to the families of unvaccinated children and unvaccinated staff.
While we sympathize with the challenges schools are having keeping up with contact tracing needs, we share the concerns of school staff and families about a state response that replaces contact tracing with *less* access to testing and other support. We are listening to Vermont educators and families and believe we need a statewide plan that quickly:
Provides testing access to *all* staff and students, regardless of vaccination status.
Distributes high-quality masks to all schools.
Adequately supports the launch and implementation of the “Test for Tots” program in early childhood learning and childcare centers.
Provides our schools with additional staffing support to meet testing and contact tracing needs.
Offers community-level responsibility and protection in the form of a data-driven statewide masking policy in line with Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations.
Give schools more autonomy about how to meet the requirements for 175 student learning days (including some flexibility around remote learning), or whether they can reasonably do so.
We then believe the Governor, Agency of Education, and Legislature must do the following before the end of school year and legislative session:
Make necessary investments in school ventilation systems.
Protect teachers pensions as an important workforce retention measure (and because it’s the right thing to do).
Address staffing shortages in our schools.
Our schools need real leadership, guidance, and support. We call on all legislators to act quickly. We are all tired, and spread thin due to the pandemic and we took an oath to support and fight for Vermonters. Our schools need us now more than ever.
We know there are many members of the public, including school staff and students, who are scared and angry right now and want to be heard. Here are some ways you can take action:
Contact Governor Phil Scott and tell him what you think about his administration’s recent guidance.
Write to members of the Vermont House Education and Senate Education committees, who are taking testimony this week on the conditions in our schools. If you are impacted by these policies, you can submit written testimony to these committees and ask them to post it on their websites (email the committee assistant).
Contact your legislators to share your thoughts and ask them to take action on this issue and on bills such as H.537, which enacts indoor masking policies in counties where the CDC indicates high or substantial community transmission rates.
We are eager to hear from educators, school workers, students, and families about your experience and how we can better support you. We know that remote learning has been challenging for all involved and that the demands for contact tracing have exceeded the capacity. We welcome your feedback on how to meet these challenges.
Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Burlington (Chittenden 6-2)
Rep. Selene Colburn, Burlington (Chittenden 6-4)
Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky, Essex (Chittenden 8-1)
Rep. Heather Surprenant, Barnard (Windsor 4-1)
Rep. Mollie Burke, Brattleboro (Windham 2-2)
Rep. Taylor Small, Winooski (Chittenden 6-4)