Vermont Education Secretary Dan French said Tuesday that K-12 schools will begin the year with full in-person instruction, but that his department will recommend that students, teachers and staff be required to wear masks, even if vaccinated.

“Once at least 80% of students in a school have received their first dose, we will recommend schools require masks only for unvaccinated students and staff,” said French.

The department also recommends schools districts implement surveillance testing and contract tracing.  As of now, there are no distancing requirements. French said the department and State Health Commissioner Mark Levine will publish their recommendations by mid-week, and will issue what they call, “Advisory Memos” throughout the year.

With the delta variant on the rise around the country, prompting the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics to suggest masking up in schools, some educators have been particularly worried about the new strain.

“All of our under 12-year-olds are not even eligible to be vaccinated. At the elementary schools, none of the students will be vaccinated or protected without at least a mitigation strategy of masks,” said Peter Langella, the librarian at Champlain Valley Union High School and an adjunct professor at UVM and Northern Vermont University.

“I have a three year old child in my house who is hopefully going to be going to preschool. I want my child to be protected as much as possible,” he said.

According to the State Health Department, children 12-16 years old have a little ways to go before they reach the 80 percent vaccination rate. French says schools will have guidance on determining what percentage of students have been vaccinated.

Levine says masking and vaccines are two powerful mitigation tools until there’s a vaccine available for those younger than 12.

“I think we need to just put that on the table that those are still going to be very important allies in our ability to keep students in in-person learning.”