In the Friday newsdump of all Friday newsdumps, Education Secretary Dan French, seen above realizing he forgot to wear pants to the office, has thrown his school Covid policies into the dumpster and promised something new and better… sometime next week.
Holy fucking hell.
In a memo sent to school officials (and quickly leaked to the media), French advised them to stop trying to do contact tracing and PCR surveillance testing because both strategies are ineffective against the impressively virulent Omicron strain. He wrote of an “imminent policy shift,” so after a disastrous first week of the winter semester, our schools will sail blithely into week 2 with no policies in place whatsoever.
Also, the AOE is now trying to supply schools with enough test kits for all their students. Seven Days, which first broke the story, reports that it’s “unclear how many kits each school will get and whether the state already has them stockpiled.”
Yeah, AOE policy is known for its lack of clarity. And substance.
This isn’t the first time French has failed to foresee the eminently foreseeable. The Delta variant was a known threat by midsummer, but AOE didn’t devise new testing and screening policies until several weeks into the school year. And the crown jewel of the strategy — Test to Stay — has had a slow and trouble-plagued rollout because the schools lacked the resources to carry it out and the state offered zero help.
And now he’s done it again with Omicron.
It was well-known by mid-December that this was a particularly nasty critter that spreads very, very quickly. And yet AOE went through the holiday break and into the new semester with only the same old policies that never entirely worked against Delta and were clearly insufficient to fight Omicron.
Here’s some proof of the Agency’s negligence. Before the holiday break the Health Department issued new guidelines for Covid-19 isolation based on updated advice from the Centers for Disease Control. VTDigger: “Usually, local school officials said, the Agency of Education released its own guidance to schools. But this time, the agency issued no new guidelines.”
There’s only one good thing about this fiasco. It’s the first time anyone in the Scott administration has admitted that their policies weren’t working.
Otherwise, row of puke emojis.
Meanwhile, teachers and school personnel are fighting to keep their heads above the rising tide. The WInooski school district had so many cases that it “advised all community members to simply assume that they had been exposed,” Digger reports. That’s comforting.
The unannounced new policy will likely shift the burden of testing onto parents. Many of them will be diligent; others are Covid skeptics who have resisted masks and vaccines and seem certain to ignore guidance from the schools. Some, said one school official “have been knowingly sending Covid-positive children to school.” Testing and reporting will be less consistent and trustworthy when school officials are no longer involved.
But even if the new policies are sound, which is a dubious assumption based on track record, they will arrive too late to stop the Omicron wildfire raging in our schools and spreading to our communities.
Dan French might be a serviceable leader in normal times, but he’s repeatedly bungled crisis management. In other administrations he might be fired, or at least shifted to the DMV or some other agency where mediocrities can serve out their time with no fuss. But Phil Scott seems incapable of firing or disciplining anyone. I expect French to survive this mess and, if the pandemic continues, bungle something else down the road.