The conversation about mask requirements and other COVID-19 protocols at the St. Johnsbury School is continuing and will keep continuing throughout the school year.
Superintendent Dr. Brian G. Ricca has already announced that masks will be required at the start of the school year due to the rapid spread of the highly infectious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.
But at Monday’s school board meeting a discussion was held between Ricca and the board about whose responsibility it was to set such policy - the school board or the superintendent?
After discussing the new state guidelines, including the “COVID-19 Advisory Memorandum” issued earlier this month by Vermont Secretary of Education Daniel M. French and Vermont Commissioner of Health Mark A. Levine, M.D., the board concluded it was ultimately their responsibility.
Superintendent Ricca, who has been delegated COVID-19 policy management duties by the board since the pandemic began, agreed and made it clear he was willing to make a change if that’s what the board wanted.
“Here’s the way that I’m going to try to approach all decisions that we make this year,” said Ricca. “I’m wanting to keep as many people safe for as long as I possibly can. If this board wants to have that authority to themselves we would be putting ourselves in a position where we would need to have an emergency meeting - at times - to make decisions…I am perfectly happy to do that.”
But School Director Dr. Deane E. Rankin said it would make more sense for Ricca and the school’s leadership team to continue setting the COVID-19 policy but also said the school board should be checking in regularly on the policy as the virus situation changes.
“I don’t think that we should be calling emergency meetings trying to collate the data,” said Rankin. “But I do think it’s important that we re-examine where we are on a monthly basis…I think we have a duty to revisit this on a monthly basis to keep people aware of the changes being made and why we’re not making changes.”
“Absolutely,” agreed Ricca.
Ricca also briefed the board on some of the problems the state is having when it comes to controlling the spread of the Delta variant.
“Contact tracing is definitely something that the health department is struggling with and we’ve had informal discussions as a leadership team,” said Ricca. “But we are leaning towards taking that on ourselves simply because of the delay that is taking place.”
According to the state’s COVID-19 Advisory Memorandum, recommended prevention measures for the school year include universal masking for all students and staff when indoors for at least the first 10 instructional days of the school year.
“To allow school districts time to calculate the percentage of currently eligible students who have received two doses of a two-dose vaccine,” reads the report.
Currently, all Vermonters ages 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated.
The state’s recommendations also call for a possible change in policy sometime after the first ten days.
“Following the first 10 instructional days of the school year, masks should no longer be required for all those eligible for vaccination when the vaccination rate (two doses of a two-dose vaccine) among students is equal to or greater than 80% of the school’s currently eligible population,” reads the report. “Masks should be required indoors for students younger than 12, who are not eligible to be vaccinated at this time.”