Contact: Ted Fisher, Vermont Agency of Education, firstname.lastname@example.org
Montpelier, Vt. - At Governor Phil Scott’s weekly press conference, state officials today announced that the universal mask recommendation for Vermont schools will not be extended past February 28, 2022. The state-level recommendation to public and independent schools was issued in August 2021 through a joint memo from the Department of Health and Agency of Education.
The announcement, which officials called a first step towards eventually fully removing school mask recommendations, means that after February 28, 2022, school districts and independent schools may consider lifting mask requirements for schools where the student vaccination rate is over 80%.
The initial memo originally set implementation for September 2021, but the implementation date had been extended several times due to challenges posed by the Delta and Omicron variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
“Our schools have had an incredibly difficult year, and this is an important step to getting them back to normal,” said Secretary of Education Dan French. “We need our schools to be able to focus all of their energies on their customary work of meeting the educational needs of our students rather spending the better part of the school day attending to the implementation of public health measures,” Sec. French said. “The work of our schools has never been more critical. No longer recommending masks in highly vaccinated schools is an important step towards shifting our focus on the needed recovery work in education.”
State health officials noted that based on widespread access to vaccines for students, the low risk COVID-19 poses to school-aged children, improving hospitalization data and current modeling projections, lifting the masking recommendation for schools, starting with those that meet the 80% threshold, is an appropriate step at this stage.
“Over the past two years, parents, students and school staff have stepped up, integrating these requirements for protecting their kids’ and school staff health deep into their daily practices. That hard work has been an important part of our ability to move forward,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD. “We know that vaccination is the most powerful and effective tool we have, and most of our school staff and students have heeded the call and are either up to date on their vaccines or are closing in. Because the Omicron variant leads to less severe outcomes, we can safely lift the masking recommendations in these highly vaccinated settings,” said Dr. Levine.
The state’s current recommendations for masking in schools are advisory. Individual schools or supervisory unions have been responsible for deciding whether to adopt the guidance. To date, only one school district has not adopted the state’s recommendation.
School district or independent school administrations will inform their learning communities about any change in their schools’ mask requirements.