If the Scott administration were devising a pandemic strategy meant to put maximum pressure on our schools, it couldn’t do much better than this. At his weekly Covid presser, Gov. Phil Scott made it clear that he expects school officials to do everything they can to keep kids in the classroom, but they’re on their own for staffing an ever-evolving, incomplete regimen of Covid testing.
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
After brief statements from Scott and others, including the customary parade of carefully curated statistics from Finance Commissioner and CovidMeister Michael Pieciak, Education Secretary Dan French took to the podium and made it clear that the administration expected school systems to “maximize in-person learning” by any means necessary. His latest brainfart, “test to stay,” is a regimen of testing done at the beginning of the school day. Students who test negative can stay in class.
This policy, which is still being rolled out more than a month into the school year, puts the onus on school staff to conduct quick tests first thing in the morning. As for how the understaffed and overstressed schools should handle the additional work, French said, “I expect schools will add staff or reassign existing staff.”
But don’t think the state will kick in a single damn dime to cover the cost. French helpfully suggested that the schools use federal Covid relief funds to pay the freight. “Funding shouldn’t be the problem,” he said. I wonder how many districts have gobs of uncommitted federal dollars sloshing around right now.
But wait, it gets worse!
French reported that his agency sent a new batch of “guidance” to the schools on Friday — just in time for school officials to spend their weekend figuring out what the state wants now.
How was this “guidance” received? Let us turn to the Twitter feed of Libby Bonesteel, superintendent of the Montpelier Roxbury School District.
Her tweet thread went on to point out that “schools are rapidly expected to be testing sites for a large group of people,” “we DO NOT have the human resources or mental capacity to handle this,” and “teachers and administrators and nurses CANNOT do full scale, multi-choice testing options for the community. We can barely serve lunch w/ the staff we have.”
Short version: “We are at our breaking point at this exact moment. Please, just stop.”
If it wasn’t bad enough to claim that the schools can afford to hire more people, Scott and French were equally unhelpful about the task of hiring in an extremely tight labor market.
“It’s across every sector,” Scott said of the worker shortage. “I’ve spoken about it for the last five years.” And then, God help us, he exhumed his old “6-3-1” talking point to show that he was way ahead of the curve on this issue. Great. Take a victory lap, why don’t you?
He concluded with the unhelpful “We’ll all have to dig deep to get through this.”
Well, governor, if you’re willing to “dig deep,” perhaps your Fifth Floor staff could take some shifts contact tracing.
French reiterated his “no help here” stance. “There needs to be a priority on testing,” he said, putting education firmly in second place. “We have to figure it out working with what we have.” After citing — as a positive, I guess, the Canaan school board member who’s also a nurse and has been volunteering to help at the schools. “Everyone’s going to need to chip in.”
Well, when he said “everyone,” he exempted his own agency. “Our staff has taken on a lot,” he said. “We don’t have the staff or capacity [to help].”
Hmm. Wonder why he doesn’t take his own advice and, y’know, hire some more workers?
Oh yeah, because his boss wouldn’t give him the money.
Remember, your administration cares. Just don’t expect them to do anything beyond a furrowing of the eyebrows.