NEWPORT CITY — Reopening Vermont this summer is no longer a dream as more and more Vermonters are fully vaccinated.
No longer needing masks outside. Visiting friends and family. Backyard barbecue.
But after that, students will likely need masks and social distancing rules when they head back to school this fall.
That’s the expectation of forward-thinking school leaders, who are looking beyond the end of this most unusual pandemic school year to figure out what’s next.
John Castle, superintendent of North Country Supervisory Union, says a push by Vermont to vaccinate everyone 16-years-old and up is important.
North Country Union High School will host a vaccination clinic for a few weeks in hopes of reaching older students.
And Castle said vaccines could reach more students soon.
One of the major vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer-BioNTech, has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency approval of its two-dose vaccine for teenagers 12-years-old and up. If enough students are vaccinated by the end of summer, it would be a game-changer at high school and even at the North Country Union Junior High School in Derby Center.
Still, Castle said he expects that only about half the students will be vaccinated by then, meaning that the high school and junior high will need to reopen with some mitigation procedures in place, like mask-wearing and physical distancing.
And he fully expects that elementary schools will require many of the same mitigations this fall that exist today because youngsters won’t be vaccinated in time.
CNBC reported Friday morning that Pfizer-BioNTech could know by the end of this year if the vaccine works for children ages five- to 11-years-old.
Superintendents talked by teleconference Thursday with Vermont Agency of Education Secretary Daniel French about a wide range of topics, including what to expect this fall.
French is waiting until June to provide the best guidance to schools on reopening plans.
At the very least, the coming school year should be less disruptive for students at all schools, who have had to deal with sudden shifts to remote learning when positive COVID-19 cases were discovered.
“We cannot say that we will return to a completely normal environment,” Castle said.
“The reality is that some practices will change, and that others likely will stay in effect for a long time.”
There will be more virtual learning across the board, and many meetings will remain virtual, he said.
And even fully-vaccinated people must be careful, Castle said.
He knows of people in the education community who are fully vaccinated but who have contracted COVID-19. They had no symptoms, however, he said.
The vaccines are still protecting people from the worst of the pandemic, he said.
“The vaccine will be a game-changer in terms of public health … but it does not entirely negate some risk.”