Anne Sosin, policy fellow at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College; Libby Bonesteel, Superintendent of Schools for Montpelier Roxbury; Dr. Brian Ricca, Superintendent of Schools for Saint Johnsbury District; and Kate Larose, Canaan parent, held a press conference on Tuesday calling on Governor Scott and his administration to adhere to the CDC guidelines and implement universal mask mandates in all schools and indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission to protect Vermont children and create the conditions for them to be in school safely.
Speakers noted that Governor Scott and his administration have skirted CDC guidance and in doing so have not created conditions for a safe and stable start to the school year. They pointed to recent data from the Vermont Department of Health which has shown a dramatic rise in Covid-19 infections, including among children, many of whom aren’t likely to be eligible for vaccinations until 2022. Additionally, across the U.S., the highly-transmissible Delta variant has led to record high child hospitalizations, with more than 2500 child hospitalizations each week.
“Governor Scott must prioritize the health and education of Vermont children,” said Anne Sosin, public health researcher. “Data from the AAP show that the state has the highest cumulative percentage of cases in children, and children ages six to eleven have the highest rate of infection in the state. Returning children safely to classrooms should be the central goal of the public health response.”
Superintendents spoke about their calls for clear guidance and protocols from Governor Scott and his administration, and about how those calls went unanswered.
“I feel a very visceral, professional responsibility to maintain an environment that is incredibly safe for children who are coming back and don’t even have the opportunity to get vaccinated,” said Brian Ricca, Superintendent of Schools for Saint Johnsbury. “The bottom line is that I can not say that Governor Scott and the administration have done every thing they can to protect Vermont children. My message to them: You can do more, we are asking for more, find a way to do it.”
“The lack of guidance from the administration ahead of the school year has been a significant challenge for my community this year,” said Libby Bonesteel, Superintendent of Schools for Montpelier Roxbury. “Vaccines are important, we know that, but they aren’t going to prevent transmission and shutting down schools.”
Kate Larose, a parent in Canaan, spoke about how Governor Scott’s failure has left her child and other children in her community behind.
“When asked why the administration didn’t issue a statewide mandate, Governor Scott replied that since the only district not masking at this moment is Canaan, ‘we’re quibbling about nothing,’’’ she said. “The health and well-being of my child and other children around the state are not ‘nothing.’ Good leadership and governance in this moment calls for the provision of safe learning and community environments for all children through a statewide mandate.”
Alliance for a Better Vermont is a 501c4 organization working to elevate Vermont voices on pressing issues to advance a collective vision and create a more prosperous future for Vermont.