Vermont schools will advance to Step III of the state’s coronavirus health guidelines this weekend, giving K-12 administrators greater flexibility in how they use common areas and allowing for more in-person instruction.

Secretary of Education Daniel French said Tuesday that schools can decide to use gyms and cafeterias for their intended purposes, with smaller, staggered group sizes and cleaning protocols. “Under Step II, these common spaces were not allowed to be utilized for their normal purposes,” French said.

French says Step III should not be viewed as relaxing the necessary mitigation strategies. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the recent cases associated with Vermont schools indicate the virus was transmitted outside the school. “Two weeks in, we have seen no COVID-19 transmission within schools,” Levine said.

Don Tinney, president of the Vermont National Education Association, applauded the decision, but urged continued caution.

“Our educators have worked tirelessly to assure a safe reopening of our schools,” he said. “So we must make sure the transition to Step Three is done carefully and cautiously — and with clear guidance from Dr. Levine and his team of experts at the Department of Health.

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