Calling on all Vermonters to share in the responsibility to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Gov. Phil Scott has ordered Pre K-12 schools across the state to close to students this week.
The announcement Sunday afternoon came as the Vermont Department of Health reported three new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to eight cases.
The school closure order, which includes all school-related activities, requires cancellations by the end of the day Tuesday through April 6. However, Scott acknowledged the closures could last longer, depending on the disease’s spread.
While classroom instruction will stop, the facilities should remain open to educators, administrators and others to keep essential services running, according to the announcement.
Any employees coming to work should practice social distancing and other hygiene steps to further reduce the chance of spreading the new virus, the administration added.
Homework assignments should be provided for students by the end of the day Tuesday or when school is dismissed, Scott said.
“This is a moment of service for all of us,” Scott said in a statement. “I know that educators across Vermont will do their part to support students and families. I’ve asked the Agency of Education to work with superintendents and local districts to ensure every child continues to receive the services they need from their schools, as well as assignments to take home to continue their academic studies.”
Additionally, districts should be establishing remote learning plans if school closures last beyond the initial suspension of classroom learning, the Republican added.
The directive calls on local school districts to fulfill three steps the Scott administration calls “key” in supporting the state’s COVID-19 response:
- Ensuring nutritional and special needs services for children
- Assisting in providing childcare options for parents who are healthcare workers and others essential to the response — such as firefighters, law enforcement personnel, EMTs and National Guardsmen and Guardswomen
- Establishing systems to maintain learning during the dismissal, and even more robust plans should schools stay closed beyond April 6
“The orderly dismissal of schools is essential to support both the State’s response to COVID-19 and the needs of children and families across Vermont,” Scott said. “We must ensure children are safe, nourished, and still learning even as the traditional structure of school is disrupted. The work of educators will be essential in this effort.”
The directive says students are not required to attend school Monday or Tuesday if their parents or guardians would like to keep them home.
“This decision is based on the best scientific evidence available to the experts at the Vermont Department of Health,” Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said in a statement. “Closing schools at the end of the day Tuesday is another important step to help keep us ahead of the curve, in terms of preventing and reducing spread of COVID-19.”
If schools have plans in place before the end of the day Tuesday, they may close early, the governor said. All schools must be closed to instruction by the end of the day Tuesday, however.
The state's three newest coronavirus cases, and four overall, are from out of state.
A man in his 70s from Berkshire County, Massachusetts, is receiving treatment at a Vermont hospital; a man in his 50s from Suffolk County, Massachusetts, is in self-isolation at his home in Vermont, and a woman in her 20s from Brooklyn, New York, is self-isolating at her family's home in Chittenden County, health officials said.
The Health Department has informed public health agencies in Massachusetts and New York and its contact tracing team is investigating the patients’ travel histories, community activities and to identify anyone in Vermont who may have been in close contact with the patients.
They will be assessed for their exposure risk and provided with guidance for their health and recommendations for self-isolation or other restrictions, the Vermont Health Department said.
The state asks residents to dial 2-1-1 for questions regarding COVID-19, if returning from Europe, China, Iran or South Korea to call the Health Department of Epidemiology at 802-863-7240. Anyone who is sick is asked to call their health care provider by phone.
“We need local government—and especially our schools and educators—to lend their capable hands and their enormous hearts in this effort,” Scott said. “It is very important to the overall response.”