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Most county schools to drop mask requirement March 14

This story was updated on March 10.

ADDISON COUNTY & BRANDON — Wearing masks will become optional in Addison Central, Addison Northwest, Mount Abraham and Rutland Northeast district schools beginning Monday, March 14.

Local schools, like other public school districts in Vermont, have had mandatory mask policies (indoors) ever since in-person classes resumed during the COVID-19 pandemic. But declining COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks have prompted state officials to relax mask rules.

ACSD Superintendent Peter Burrows addressed the issue in a March 3 announcement.

“Today, Gov. Phil Scott, Education Secretary Dan French and State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso announced that as a result of lower COVID case counts, overall COVID trends, and a lower level of strain on the healthcare system, Vermont will transition to an endemic approach with our management of and response to COVID,” Burrows stated.

“These changes will be consistent for all Vermonters and in Vermont schools. The Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics are supportive of this transition and the Vermont Department of Health will be conforming to and releasing more details on these changes.”

In all of the 22 schools in these four area districts, the new policies make masks optional in all buildings and on school buses, regardless of the vaccination rate of each building.

Schools will continue to provide access to COVID-19 antigen tests through the Test-At-Home and Staff Assurance Testing programs. In the future, those programs will be phased out in favor of students and staff accessing the same testing programs provided to all Vermonters.

The superintendents noted that the Department of Health will soon release changes that simplify isolation and quarantine guidance.

“We recognize that any change, no matter how welcome, can evoke fear and uncertainty,” ANWSD Superintendent Sheila Soule wrote in a March 3 district-wide announcement.

Mount Abraham Unified School District Superintendent Patrick Reen tried to reassure the community in a March 4 statement.

“As a community, we have been through many health and safety changes over the last two years,” Reen wrote. “Thank you to everyone in our community for working together as we take care of each other and focus on what’s best for our students.”

RNESU Superintendent Jeanne Collins noted that 97% of staff are vaccinated and 55-60% of eligible students are vaccinated. She said that even though there was a large surge in COVID-19 cases since the December holiday break, “we feel we are ready to step into this move.”

She said the school district would differ from the state in that it will continue making antigen tests available “for staff and students to address lingering anxieties for the rest of the school year.

“The state is talking about phasing this out, but we are advocating to finish the year,” she said.

Burrows noted that Vermont’s change in response to COVID will be felt differently by each member of our community.

“ACSD administrators and school nurses are here to support students and families through this change,” he said. “Please reach out if you have any questions or particular concerns you would like to discuss.”

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The Addison Independent will be closed on Monday, July 4th. The newspaper will be published on Thursday, as usual.