Education

After Thanksgiving, schools will require students who attend multi-household gatherings to quarantine

Renée DeVore takes student's temperature
Renée DeVore, the principal at Montpelier High School, takes senior Maple Perchlik’s temperature during a daily health check at the school’s entrance on the first day of school, Sept. 8. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Students who attend multi-household gatherings over Thanksgiving break will need to quarantine for a minimum of seven days.

Officials announced the new policy just two days ahead of the holiday. In response to a record-breaking rise in cases, Gov. Phil Scott banned multi-household socialization in mid-November. But his order lacked enforcement mechanisms, and schools were at the time given no direction about whether students who defied the ban could continue to attend school in-person.

“We understand how difficult this is. But because we know these types of gatherings have been the cause of so many outbreaks, we’ve got to do what we can to slow this down,” Scott said Tuesday during his regular twice-weekly press conference.

Employers are also strongly encouraged to adopt a similar approach, the governor said, and ask employees if they attended holiday gatherings.

Winter school sports, which were set to begin on Nov. 30, will also be postponed indefinitely, Scott said. State officials had earlier canceled recreational sports until further notice in response to spiking case counts.

“This is an example of why it’s so important to be vigilant, and avoid small gatherings. And it’s my hope that adults will realize the need to sacrifice, in order to give our kids this important time in their life and, most importantly, keep them in school,” Scott said.

Mike Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, which has been doing the state’s Covid-19 modeling, also warned Tuesday that the coming holiday could bring a fresh surge in cases. 

Staff and students in Vermont’s preK-12 schools currently answer a set of questions each day, asking about potential symptoms of Covid-19 and out-of-state travel. If they say they are exhibiting symptoms or have traveled out of state and haven’t quarantined, they’re sent home. 

That daily health check can now include a question about multi-household gatherings over the holiday, according to Scott. Students who say they attended such events will need to quarantine for 14 days, or seven days if they have a negative test result.

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Gathering in pre-established “pods” related to education or child care remains allowable, according to updated guidance released by the Agency of Education on Monday. Pods related to social activity or informal play groups are prohibited.

The holidays have been a subject of intense anxiety for schools, and local education officials have been debating whether to go remote after the holidays out of fear that Thanksgiving get-togethers could bring an onslaught of cases into schools.

The Orange Southwest School District, which serves Brookfield, Randolph and Braintree, has gone as far as to announce it will go remote “until such time as conditions in our community allow for a safe return,” according to a letter sent home to families by superintendent Layne Millington.

Orange County has had 121 cases of the virus in the last two weeks, and Millington said one of the district’s Covid coordinators had reported that about a third of families contacted as part of the contract-tracing effort “simply did not care.”

“Many expressed very clearly their resistance to quarantine and some explicitly stated they would be non-compliant, including some who had already tested positive. This does not bode well for what our communities may face over the next few months,” he wrote.

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Lola Duffort

About Lola

Lola Duffort is VTDigger's education reporter. Prior to Digger, Lola covered schools for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire and the Rutland Herald. She has also freelanced for the Miami Herald in Florida, where she grew up. She is a graduate of McGill University in Canada.

Email: [email protected]

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