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Arlington Memorial Middle and High School canceled school Tuesday and Wednesday because of COVID cases on the rise.

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Schools throughout the region are maintaining a positive, glass-half-full posture, but the worry is growing as COVID-19 cases continue to increase following a surge after Halloween.

Prior to the Thanksgiving vacation, Arlington schools closed earlier than scheduled, with Fisher Elementary not in class Wednesday, and Arlington Memorial Middle and High School knocking off Tuesday and Wednesday.

Southwestern Vermont Supervisory Union Assistant Superintendent William Bazyk said Arlington is working to maintain a sense of normalcy.

“Arlington schools are experiencing increasing cases of COVID as the cases rise in Bennington County,” Bazyk said. “The Arlington community has always been understanding and vigilant to keep our schools open and allow our students a sense of normalcy during the pandemic, which is still occurring.”

Arlington was not alone.

Schools throughout the SVSU closed on Wednesday as COVID cases rose.

The SVSU reported cases in five of its 10 schools and, in a statement, said the “schools will not have the minimum number of students and staff required to operate,” based on Vermont public health guidelines.

Schools need 50 percent attendance to operate.

Bazyk said the schools were working to follow Agency of Education guidelines, but the lack of help with contact tracing was not helping.

“Our staff is working extremely hard to adhere to the AOE guidance,” Bazyk said. “But I question the sustainability of current contact tracing and other responsibilities without more help from state entities.”

With infection rates high, schools are also pushing their Test to Stay programs ahead with the rising cases.

Both Arlington schools and the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union will be offering Test to Stay options after the Thanksgiving break.

Test to Stay is a program where unvaccinated students, staff or teachers who are a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case, can stay in school by testing negative with daily antigen tests each morning.

Normally, an unvaccinated person who was identified as a close contact would have to quarantine and stay home for a period of time while waiting for a negative test result.

The schools emphasized that students must be registered before they can take advantage of the program.

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BRSU Superintendent Randi Lowe, in an email home to families, acknowledged that a year ago, most families were prevented from traveling to celebrations, but said this year’s situation still presents concern despite a lack of travel restrictions.

“It was a very difficult time for most of us,” Lowe said in the email. “This year, those restrictions aren’t in place, but I have heard from enough people to know that there is a level of concern as we enter the holiday season. Our COVID case counts are high, and people want to visit others, but there is some hesitancy.”

Lowe said details are not yet worked out, but the BRSU is working with Manchester Medical Center to provide weekly surveillance testing through December and January, if the logistics can be worked out.

“I see this as one more layer of mitigation through the holiday season,” Lowe said.

She also encouraged vaccinations while allowing that “every one of us is making the decision we consider best for ourselves and our children.”

Mark Tashjian, headmaster of Burr and Burton Academy, reported the most recent weekly test results at that school show positive numbers at the school. The school reported one new positive case out of more than 200 individuals tested and that person was already in quarantine.

That means BBA has had 16 students test positive for COVID-19, 10 of whom were unvaccinated.

There have also been six members of the staff or faculty test positive, all of whom were vaccinated, Tashjian reported.

In all, 98 percent of faculty and staff are vaccinated, and 80 percent of students are vaccinated.

BBA is also preparing to implement the Test to Stay program.

The BRSU’s Lowe expressed gratitude heading into the Thanksgiving break in her email.

“I want to express my heartfelt gratitude for each of you,” Lowe wrote. “In the year and a half that I have served as the BRSU superintendent, we haven’t had a period of stability. We have lived under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic, and every one of us has faced unpredictable curveballs and difficult and frustrating situations.

“The BRSU community is incredible,” Lowe continued.

“Our families, teachers, staff and board members have come together and rallied for our children in a way that fills me with pride. Thank you for everything you do to support our collective work on behalf of our children. Every small action makes a big difference.”

Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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