As Burlington schools prepare to reopen, officials seek to ease lingering concerns

Back to School 2020

BURLINGTON, Vt. – As Vermont schools prepare to reopen next Tuesday, Burlington officials took questions from the community in a town hall meeting on Wednesday.

Mayor Miro Weinberger and Superintendent Thomas Flanagan were joined by Dr. William Raszka, a pediatric infectious disease specialist. He reminded participants that the infection rate in Vermont is the lowest in the country.

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“Everyone is barraged every day with the numbers across the United States, rising rates here and there, astronomical surges here and there, particularly in the Sun Belt,” he said. That is not Vermont.”

Dr. Raszka said school-based studies have shown that children infrequently spread COVID-19 to other students or adults, and said kids are also less efficient at transmitting the virus. There’s also been optimism over the fact that Vermont didn’t see any outbreaks when childcare centers reopened earlier this summer.

“Schools may be even a bit safer than most other public spaces, because we’re going to be screening people to go in, we’re going to be monitoring very carefully and doing contact isolation.”

Dr. William Raszka, pediatric infectious disease specialist

One participant asked about recent comments from Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French, who suggested schools could enter ‘phase three’ of reopening in two weeks. That would allow for expanded in-person learning beyond the two days that the Burlington School District’s ‘hybrid model’ currently allows for.

Flanagan said that although that’s his goal, as well, there’s “a lot to work out to make sure that we can do that.”

“It indicates that we are more ready to come back fully in person, but it’s not a signal that we have to come back,” he said.

The District is planning to send out an updated draft on health and safety guidelines this week after the State reduced physical distancing requirements in schools from six feet to three to six feet.

The changes have allowed for more students to be in buildings at once, and the District is planning to use that extra capacity to allow students with special needs to receive four in-person school days a week.

“I think it’s actually going to be a very safe public space, but there will be some child that will be diagnosed with COVID-19, and the State health department has really elaborate plans,” Razda said.

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