Fierman outlines school opening measures at well-attended forum

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At a time when school officials all over the country are facing meetings of unhappy, often disrupting and even threatening parents regarding their decisions on issues like masking, the Two Rivers Supervisory Union held a school-opening forum last Thursday that was, by contrast, calm and civil. Local schools reopen on Tuesday, Sept.  7.

One hundred fifty attended the forum on Thursday Aug. 19

Superintendent Lauren Fierman told the 150 in attendance that in early August the state  told boards that without a state of emergency, it does not have the authority to make mandates, and would defer instead to district boards. Since then, both of the districts that make up the TRSU have delegated the authority to make those decisions to her. Fierman said that it’s her intention to follow the recommendations of the Vermont Agency of Education and Department of Health.

Those recommendations include universal masking for the first 10 days of school and optional masking in school buildings where at least 80 percent of the students have been vaccinated. Since vaccinations are currently only available for those age 12 and older, the elementary schools will be masking for the foreseeable future. Fierman said that masks will not be required outdoors and Katherine Fogg – principal of the two Green Mountain District’s elementary schools  – said that the plan was to do as much outside as possible.

Superintendent Lauren Fierman explained how school would be opened and took questions from those attending

Fierman told the meeting that it was her understanding that school nurses would use the state’s vaccination database to calculate the percentage of students who have taken the shots. On Friday afternoon however, the AOE and Health Department appeared to have reversed course, and instead recommended that schools ask parents if their children have been vaccinated. According to the memo, parents would be asked to sign an “attestation” and provide proof.  Parents would not be required to answer or provide proof, but without proof, that student would be seen as unvaccinated, which would count against the 80 percent goal to make masks optional.

The AOE’s memo did not state that school nurses were barred from use the vaccination database to check a student’s status but in the email that accompanied Education Secretary Dan French said “as previously communicated, school nurses may not use the database for the purposes obtaining this proof.” The Telegraph requested the original “communication” but did not receive it by publication time.

According to AOE spokesman Ted Fisher, the agency considered two ways of calculating the percentage. These were the parent attestation and proof method explained above or taking the student roster from the school and comparing it to the vaccination database by a state agency. The state decided to put the onus on the school systems, which would make reaching the 80 percent mark much more difficult.

When there is a vaccine for those under 12 and individual schools reach a student vaccination rate of 80 percent masks can be optional there too.

Fierman said the school system is not requiring vaccination from anyone either to attend school or as a condition of employment. She noted that – statewide – a little more than 90 percent of teachers have received the vaccine.

Questions from the audience revolved around distancing, lunch, sports and remote learning. Fierman said there’s no mandate for specific distancing but that she asks students to keep a “reasonable distance.”

Lunches will continue to be eaten in the classroom, to limit the number of children who are together with their masks off. Fierman also said the schools will continue to use a system of cohorts to keep the level low for exposure to someone who may test positive.

Chester resident Andrew Pelletier said the first line of defense is healthy living and we should not make our children fearful

Former school board member Jeff Hance noted that the soccer team does not have to wear masks and he wondered if that would also apply to the basketball team. Athletic director Todd Parah said that the schools are waiting for the recommendation of the Vermont Principals Association.

“I know it sucks that they have to wear masks,” said Hance, “but a lot of people say thank you for looking out for our kids.”

Chester resident Andrew Pelletier referred to the recommendations of the AOE, Centers for Disease Control, Vermont Health Department and other organizations in asking, “do they talk anything about health, do they talk about the benefits of eating right, exercise and sleep to build a strong immune system when you do get Covid-19?”

“In the general statements made by those organizations I’m certain they exist,” said Fierman. “The things that I’m making reference to are the particular advisories that were put out with reference to whether we should or should not wear masks.”

Pelletier said he believes there’s a  lot of conflicting information and that “health and well being is probably the best way to approach this.” He added that we cannot be afraid of all of the viruses that exist and that children are getting mixed messages that make them fearful.

Answering questions about students who must stay out due to quarantine, Fierman said that the school will send home work for the student and if an entire class must quarantine, the teacher will be available remotely to help students.

About an hour and a quarter into the forum, there were no more questions and the number attending began to drop off.

 

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