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House Speaker Jill Krowinski Calls On Gov. Phil Scott To Issue Mask Mandate For Vermont's Schools

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The Scott administration issued guidance earlier this month that encourages districts to adopt a mask mandate for all people entering school facilities, regardless of vaccination status. House Speaker Jill Krowinski is calling on the administration to do more.

House Speaker Jill Krowinski is calling on Gov. Phil Scott to issue a mandatory reopening plan for all Vermont schools that includes a mask requirement for students and staff.

The Scott administration issued guidance earlier this month that encourages districts to adopt a mask mandate for all people entering school facilities, regardless of vaccination status.

Scott has repeatedly said he doesn’t have the authority to force districts to adhere to a universal mask requirement, but Krowinski said Tuesday that the governor needs to take whatever steps are necessary to gain that authority.

"I think not having a universal policy, and instead relying on town-by-town, business-by-business, school-by-school is just not working for Vermonters right now.”
House Speaker Jill Krowinski

“I know that the administration has tools that they can use right now that would slow the spread of this pandemic, and follow CDC advice,” Krowinski said in an interview with VPR. “And whether it’s an emergency order or a public health order or another legal mechanism, I don’t know why they can’t use these or other tools to help keep folks safe right now, especially with this uptick in cases.”

Krowinski issued a release to Vermont news outlets Tuesday calling the governor to adopt more stringent COVID mitigation measures. She said she and other members of the Legislature have been inundated with calls and emails from constituents who are worried about the spread of the delta variant in Vermont.

More from VPR: Reporter Debrief: Gov. Scott Announces COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate For Some State Employees

Krowinski said the lack of unified, statewide COVID protocols is creating tension for the municipalities and school districts that have been forced to draft their own individual policies.

“I’ve heard stories from these local meetings, volunteer school and municipal boards, having difficult interactions with individuals who do not believe in the science of masking,” Krowinski said. “And so I think not having a universal policy, and instead relying on town-by-town, business-by-business, school-by-school is just not working for Vermonters right now.”

Krowinski issued her critique of Scott’s COVID response shortly before the governor’s weekly press conference Tuesday. Asked about her remarks by reporters, Scott dismissed the criticism as “politics.”

“I think one of the reasons our pandemic response has been the best in the nation is that we never politicized our response, as other states and their ambitious leaders have done across the country … Playing politics on this issue isn’t going to help the situation or help Vermonters.”
Gov. Phil Scott

“I think it’s unfortunate to play politics at this point in time,” Scott said. “I think one of the reasons our pandemic response has been the best in the nation is that we never politicized our response, as other states and their ambitious leaders have done across the country … Playing politics on this issue isn’t going to help the situation or help Vermonters.”

Scott said the executive mandates Krowinski’s seeking only carry legal weight when Vermont is under a state of emergency. And he said Vermont, which has the lowest rate of COVID-related hospitalization in the nation, is no longer in an emergency situation.

More from VPR: Scott Administration Recommends Schools Be In-Person, Masks Required Until Student Vax Rate Hits 80%

Deputy Education Secretary Heather Bouchey acknowledged Tuesday that the creation of local school reopening plans hasn’t been without tension.

But she said there are advantages to delegating authority over reopening plans to local school districts.

“What is important is that local school officials are stepping up and exercising their local authority and responsibility to make the health and safety decisions that work for their community,” Bouchey said.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Peter Hirschfeld @PeteHirschfeld.

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