Abrupt End to Key Health and Safety Measures ‘Demoralizing Blow’ to Vermont’s Educators

Vermont-NEA Board of Directors slams state’s decision to abandon contact tracing and surveillance testing with vague promises of further guidance next week

MONTPELIER – In response to last night’s announcement that the state would abandon two key elements of mitigating the spread of COVID in our schools, the board of the state’s largest union today issued the following statement:

The secretary of education decided to commemorate one of the most chaotic weeks ever in Vermont schools by yet another Friday night announcement of yet another abrupt COVID policy shift. Yesterday’s announcement that schools must stop contact tracing and surveillance testing – with a promise of more guidance next week – is a demoralizing blow to the thousands of Vermonters who work in our schools, who attend our schools, and are parents of students in our schools.

In one week, we saw the cumulative effect of inconsistent, ever-changing, and confusing guidance as schools struggle to keep ahead of a virus that doesn’t wait for a response. Schools closed. Parents struggled. Educators were flat out exhausted – and vulnerable in the face of rapidly rising case counts.

Contact tracing and surveillance testing were meant to give local administrators the information they needed to make sound decisions on how safe their schools were. The abrupt end to these measures – with a promise of something “better” – has us feeling like Vermont’s officials are putting educators, administrators, and parents at greater and greater risk.

Vermont’s educators are already doing everything in their power to ensure an in-school education for Vermont’s students. They are doing this despite grave misgivings of their personal safety, and despite anger and frustration at the abrupt and, seemingly at times, tone deaf shifts in safety guidance.

We should make sure that all schools are equipped the tools – testing and otherwise – needed to mitigate the further spread of this virus.

We had been assured that the multi-layered approach to COVID safety in our schools would give us, our students, and our communities the best shot at safety. Since the school year began, however, we’ve seen the gradual shifting of school health and safety onto the backs of parents and front-line educators. And by announcing the end of contact tracing and surveillance testing, the state has us bewildered in stripping away two important layers of safety with only vague assurances of something better. This is unacceptable.

The Vermont-NEA Board of Directors believes that the health and safety of our members – and the students they teach – must come first. We will be letting the governor, the education secretary, and local school administrators know that Vermont’s school employees – who have been among the front-line heroes of this pandemic – deserve better than late-night policy shifts that will continue to sow chaos in our schools.

Vermont’s educators have been there for Vermont throughout the pandemic. It’s long past time for Vermont’s leaders to be there for our educators.

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