Dan French Wants You to Know He’s Smarter Than You

Gov. Phil Scott is the master of leavening otherwise innocuous statements with little passive-aggressive cracks, such as his couching any opposition to his Wise PoliciesTM as “playing politics.” Well, Education Secretary Dan French, the Inspector Clouseau of the Scott cabinet, has listened and learned at the feet of his master.

You see, French buried a lovely nugget of condescension in his second consecutive Friday newsdump of fresh guidance for the public schools. Not only has he shifted state policy away from in-school testing and contact tracing; now he’s actively dissuading school officials from pursuing more stringent measures.

In his Friday email to the schools, French told them “to avoid the temptation to build additional processes.”

Temptation?

Excuse me?

What he’s saying, I guess, is that school officials have to be cautioned away from the shiny bauble of additional work. Yes, the sirens of contact tracing and Test to Stay may be singing prettily from the rocky shore, but local officials need to tie themselves to the mast and sail on by the opportunity to take on a workload that was killing them throughout the fall semester.

Does he know how condescending this sounds? Probably not, given his customary level of obtuseness.

If any school official is “tempted” to keep on with in-school Covid-fighting measures, it’s not because they want to maintain a punishing workload. It’s because they believe in-school policies as more effective in slowing the spread of Covid-19.

Not that French cares about the spread of Covid. His only concern is the same as his boss’s: Just make sure the hospitals aren’t completely overrun with serious cases. Anything less than that is simply collateral damage.

In case “temptation” was too vague, French spelled it out in his memo:

“You should not prepare line lists, track cases, or undertake other activities associated with contact tracing. Omicron’s speed of transition, and the rising case counts will quickly overwhelm your ability to keep up with these additional activities, and exhaust you and your staff.”

Well. This is the first time French has expressed any concern for school officials’ workloads. Until now, he’d been happy to dump all the work on the schools without offering any assistance whatsoever. Now, all of a sudden, he cares about their exhaustion?

Maybe what he really wants is to limit the amount of data being collected by schools. Since the onset of Omicron, administration officials have been telling us to follow hospitalizations and deaths and ignore the rest of the data. Would it be too much of a surprise to conclude that they are now trying to limit collection of inconvenient data? After all, you don’t have to explain numbers you don’t have.

Seems harsh, but look at the record. French is only just now preparing to collect data on school closures, which seems like an obvious — nay, automatic — thing to do. VTdigger reports that Vermont public school students have missed “thousands” of days due to Covid, staffing shortages and weather, but that nobody knows how many because the Education Agency hasn’t been gathering the information.

Here’s another thing. French is desperate to get public schools to stop doing testing and contact tracing — but he hasn’t changed the guidance for private schools. They will continue with Test to Stay and all that stuff while the public schools immediately pivot.

French’s explanation is not credible. “Independent schools should plan to continue their current testing programs during the initial stages as the new program is set up in public schools,” French told private school officials in an email last Tuesday.

What?

Is he not saying it’s too hard to change everybody’s policies all at once? That makes no sense. Private schools have about one-eighth as many students as the public schools. If you’re going to phase in a new policy, why not the private schools first?

And what sense does it make to maintain different guidances for different schools? Wouldn’t it be easier to have a single universal policy?

French’s Covid policy is an ever-shifting mess, always a day late and a dollar short. What does it take for a guy to lose a job around here?

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