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Pandemic protocols finalized for new school year

Photo portrait of Rene Sanchez

BY JASON STARR

Observer staff

In his first report to the Champlain Valley School Board, first-year Superintendent Rene Sanchez opened Tuesday night with a rundown of the school district’s Covid safety plan for the upcoming school year.

When he started the job on July 1, there was hope that pandemic protocols would be a thing of the past. It’s now clear that the school year will start with many of the same rules in place as last year. One big difference, however, is that all schools in the district will be open five days a week. No longer will the school district staff a “remote learning academy,” which was in place throughout last school year to accommodate students opting to learn from home.

Families interested in having their students learn from home will be required to register as home-school students through the Vermont Agency of Education, which is the typical non-pandemic process.

“We are trying to stay open for five days a week of in-person learning,” Sanchez said.

The first day of school is Aug. 25, which will be an early release day.

Sanchez outlined a series of measures the district will take to control the spread of Covid-19. First, school administrators will monitor the vaccination status of students and staff, with a goal of having a school’s population at least 80 percent vaccinated. School nurses will rely on the Vermont Immunization Registry to track vaccination status.

At 80 percent vaccination, the Centers for Disease Control would no longer recommend the need for masks in indoor settings. According to school district nurse Jocelyn Bouyea, 83 percent of kids aged 12-15 in Chittenden County are vaccinated and 91 percent of kids age 16 and 17 are vaccinated. That bodes well for a potential loosening of indoor masking at Champlain Valley Union High School.

All district schools will start the year with masks required of everybody in the building. Unvaccinated students will be required to mask in outdoor school settings, too, Sanchez said.

Another safety measure schools will employ is the overnight use of air ventilation systems and upgraded air filters.

“We will have as much fresh air flowing through the buildings as possible,” Sanchez said.

The school district has also prepared its response plan if Covid cases are detected in the school community. Anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus will be required to quarantine for at least 10 days until asymptomatic. Mixing of classes will be minimized to facilitate contact-tracing if a case is detected.

“We will design classes and activities so we will have a really good idea of who is near who,” Sanchez said.

The district is also planning monthly surveillance testing of students and staff on an opt-in basis to attempt to contain any cases before they become outbreaks.

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