Gov. Phil Scott announced this week that schools will be allowed to open on Sept. 8, a week later than usual, in order for schools to have more time to prepare for the fall.
Scott and Vermont's top health and education officials explained that the level of the virus that causes coronavirus infections is low enough in the state for students to return to in-person classes.
Vermont school districts had previously planned to reopen this fall through the implementation of a hybrid model of remote and in-person learning for students pre-K-12.
"We have to recognize and plan for the reality that our data could change before the start of school,” Scott said. "And the other reality is we will continue to see cases of COVID-19 in Vermont and we will also see some in our schools."
The Vermont Agency of Education and the Vermont Department of Health released Safety and Health Guidance for Reopening Schools to ensure students can safely return back to school.
Included in the plan is a three-step phased opening in accordance with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Step 1 allows for remote learning due to all schools being closed, Step 2 states that schools will be allowed to reopen in the fall with enhanced physical distancing measures, and Step 3 permits schools to reopen with distancing measures.
In the fall, Vermont plans to reopen schools in Step 2, allowing students to return for in-person instruction with enhanced physical distancing measures and for children who live in the local area.
The plan includes guidance for facial coverings, health screenings, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, transportation, and protocols for positive cases of the virus.
While on school premises, staff and students must wear facial coverings while in the building and outside when physical distancing is not possible.
Upon arrival, students will undergo frequent health screening and temperature checks.
To ensure the building is regularly cleaned and disinfected, the plan insists that common spaces and frequently touched surfaces and doors should be disinfected and cleaned at the beginning, middle, and end of the school day.
These surfaces include bathroom door handles and rails, toys, and playground equipment.
School bus transportation will be reinstituted in Step 3 due to physical spacing concerns. Once the implementation of the final step in reopening is permitted, students will be screened prior to boarding the bus to reduce the potential spread of the virus. Schools must ensure that the screened students who board the bus do not mix with others who have yet to be evaluated.
If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a school, the areas used by the infected individual must be disinfected and cleaned. Doors and windows will need to be opened to increase air circulation within the building. Schools are requested to perform contact tracing if there is a confirmed case of the coronavirus in school.
Decisions regarding school closure will be determined by the Agency of Education.
"We need to aim for and plan for school openings because, if our data shows we can do it safely, it’s the very best option for our kids," Scott said. "Kids need the structure, the relationships with their peers, their teachers, and other adults for academic, social, and emotional development."
Updated information and additional guidance is available on the Vermont Agency of Education website.