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Amid turmoil, Vt. Education officials say masks may be required in certain school situations

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By Peter D’Auria/ VTDigger

At a parent event at Burlington’s Flynn Elementary School late last month, one parent handed out a copy of a memo asking others to consider sending their children to class wearing masks.

“Masking Request: A student in your child’s classroom has an underlying health condition that may put this individual at a higher risk when exposed to symptoms of a contagious disease,” the memo read. .

Later in the day, Flynn Elementary School principal Nicky Ellis emailed parents about the “status” of the event. According to Ellis, the memo was “unsanctioned” by Burlington administration.

“While we encourage all families to decide whether or not to send their child to school with or without a mask based on needs and experience, Flynn Elementary currently requires students and staff to wear masks. We are not requiring them to be worn,” Ellis wrote.

The Burlington incident highlights the anxiety and uncertainty around masking as children return to schools with few Covid-19 safety rules from the past two years.

In March, Vermont officials rescinded a recommendation that schools maintain indoor mask mandates.

But last week, two days after the exchange in Burlington, the Vermont Department of Education said schools would allow such delegations under certain circumstances. After state officials received “several questions” about safety regulations, Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French told the superintendent on Sept. We may need to implement masking or other mitigation measures as a consideration.”

The guidance came just days after schools started statewide, but some supporters say it’s a difficult time for school administrators and parents of immunocompromised children.

“What we were hearing was that amending the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations, state recommendations, and guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education is often confusing. Rachel Seelig, director of the Disability Law Project, said:

Department of Education spokesperson Ted Fisher said the announcement was not a change in policy. Rather, he said, the state was simply restating the current law. Students have a right to an education. may mean that the accommodation must be accommodated.

“Keep in mind that schools have an obligation pre-Covid-19 pandemic to ensure this free and adequate public education,” Fisher said. “And we must pay attention to the steps necessary to enable students to participate in school.”

He compared the situation to a school where students have severe allergies.

“That means we have students with fatal allergies to peanuts,” Fisher said. “It might be necessary[to ban]peanuts school-wide, right?

If a student has a disability, educators and medical professionals working with that student can decide if an environment in which other students are masked is required. In that case, the educator can add it to the student’s individualized education plan, commonly referred to as her IEP. This is a document that sets forth the necessary provisions for education.

“Students with disabilities have the right to participate in the general education curriculum and to be with their peers. within a reasonable range,” said Seelig.

Alyssa Chen, coordinator of Vermont’s Educational Justice Coalition, said the state’s new guidance was “better late than never” but that it was done “without much clear support.” Chen pointed out that the education agency did not share contact information for professionals and did not provide clear resources for officials and parents.

“We get a lot of questions from parents about how to protect medically vulnerable students,” she said.

Chen said he knows of about six cases where parents have tried to add masking requirements to their children’s IEPs. In at least two of her cases, she said, students attended school in at least partially masked environments. In other cases, parents were told they were prohibited from wearing masks.

Burlington School District spokesperson Russell Ereck said in an email that school district officials have been in contact with the Department of Education “for clarification” about the French letter and will contact families if policy changes. Stated.

He pointed out that administrators have yet to “receive documentation from doctors recommending full-class masking.”

“As this work continues, it is important to know that we take documented cases of medically vulnerable children and the need for accommodation for those students seriously.” Erec said.