The Board of Aldermen will likely debate a mask mandate when it meets Monday, Board President Matt Whitcomb said Friday.
Whitcomb said he opposed mandates for much of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that his thinking had shifted during the most recent surge and after discussions with area health care officials. He said Rutland Regional Medical Center CEO Claudio Fort would address the board Monday, after which he expected a discussion of a mask mandate.
Whitcomb said he personally would support a 30-day mandate to help get the city through the holidays.
“I think even though it’s unfortunate to have to do a mask mandate, I think it’s probably a necessity at this point due to our capacity issues,” he said. “The volume of people getting infected and going into the system are creating this crisis where people who have more severe issues that are far more fatal are experiencing a delay in care. That’s what we have to deal with right now.”
Vermont reported 482 new cases on Friday, 31 of them in Rutland County. Rutland County’s 14-day total is 739. Eighty-one people in the state are hospitalized with COVID-19, 22 of them in ICUs. The state’s death toll is 416.
Hospital spokeswoman Gerianne Smart said as of Friday, the hospital was at 86% capacity and it had fluctuated between 85% and 90% during the current wave of COVID infections. She said COVID patients accounted for 20% of their overall census.
“COVID patients tend to be sicker and require acute care and their length of stay in the hospital tends to be longer as well,” she wrote in an email. “Every COVID case we can prevent in the community helps to keep us from being full.”
Mayor David Allaire has repeatedly stated his opposition to mask mandates. He said he had his own discussion with Fort on Friday and his thinking had not shifted.
“I’m actually in lockstep with (Fort) in a lot of ways — encouraging people to mask and get vaccinations and social distance,” Allaire said. “Up to this point, I’m not convinced at all a mask mandate is in order. I don’t think it’s going to change anyone’s behavior, and it is not enforceable. I haven’t seen any change in behavior in Rutland Town since they enacted their mandate.”
Rutland Town enacted a requirement last week for people to wear masks at indoor locations open to the public, with fines of up to $100 for offenders.
Rutland Town Police Chief Ed Dumas was out this week with COVID, but said Friday he was feeling fine and would be back on Monday. Deputy Chief Ted Washburn said no tickets had been written for violations of the mandate.
“In fact, to my knowledge, we haven’t even gotten a call yet,” he said. “We’re waiting, really, until we’re called. We’re doing the best to let the businesses enforce it. We can’t be everywhere at once.”
Whitcomb said enforcement was a tough question for him to grapple with as well, particularly with so short-staffed a police department.
“Say even 10% of Rutland says ‘absolutely not,’” Whitcomb said. “Yeah, you could try to write a ticket for those 1,500 people, but it’s an enormous application of a limited resource.”
Allaire did not say whether he felt strongly enough to exercise the first mayoral veto of his administration if the board adopts a mandate.
“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” he said. “I’m not convinced there are six votes for it on the board.”
Five weeks after expanding their vaccination efforts to include children aged 5 to 11, health care officials are seeing a slightly slower uptake than what was seen with teens but 44% have gotten at least one shot as of Friday, according to Kelly Dougherty, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health.
The goal is to have 80% of Vermont’s children vaccinated.
The state has hosted vaccination clinics for children at settings such as local schools but Dougherty said kids have also gotten their shots at the office of the child’s pediatrician or pharmacies or nonstate clinics. Dougherty said most of those who have been vaccinated have gotten them at one of the state clinics, however.
“We are really trying to get the word out,” she said.
For scheduling future clinics, Dougherty said staff at the health department has learned that parents are often not available during the day.
“We are definitely working on more evening and weekend opportunities so that parents who are working during the day can get their kids to be vaccinated because, particularly with younger kids, you want to be there with them,” she said.
Clinics that had taken place had been school-located and not school-based which meant they were taking place at the site of a school but not tied to the school and its students. As a result, parents eager to get their kids vaccinated were taking up spots at a particular school whether the kids were students there or not.
That had been the idea, to have clinics open to any Vermont kids, but Dougherty said they had found it was “difficult (because) the students who actually went to that school maybe weren’t able to attend their own clinics.”
Adding more clinics to serve students from other parts of Vermont as well as opening slots for the kids whose school was hosting a clinic seems to have addressed the issue, according to Dougherty.
Dougherty said one challenge that has not continued has been the availability of the specialized vaccine doses for children.
On its website, the health department describes the difference between the shot kids 5 to 11 can get.
“Children 5 to 11 will receive the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The dose is specially made for this age group — one-third the size of the dose for people 12 and older. This provides enough protection with the least potential for side effects. Just like adolescents and adults, children will receive two doses of the vaccine given three weeks apart,” the description said.
While Dougherty said the supply was a little uneven at first, as it had been for the vaccines for adults when it was first available, the health department is now in regular touch with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the access to the vaccine is stable.
“That’s not a concern at this point,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty said officials at the health department had noticed that younger children were, for now, getting vaccinated at a slower rate than older kids during the first five weeks it became available to them. She noted the 5 to 11 group is “definitely a different animal,” than the 12 to 17 group and said it’s possible that indicates some hesitancy among parents.
As outreach, the health department has started the “#LittleArms” campaign, which can be seen online.
The campaign includes information for parents who want to learn more about vaccinations for kids and why health care providers believe they are safe and effective. There are also suggestions for talking to kids about why they are being asked to get the shot and what they can expect when it happens.
By email, Ben Truman, a spokesman for the health department, said state health care workers had learned during the pandemic that “their children’s health and safety is the highest priority for parents and caregivers.”
“The Health Department works with families in all stages of children’s lives, and understand that the decision to vaccinate a child can involve special considerations. We know that many parents and caregivers have questions. #LittleArms and the dedicated web site Healthvermont.gov/KidsVaccine is here to make it easy for people to get the information they need to make an educated decision about the new vaccine for young children,” he said.
Truman said LittleArms would also use social media and advertising to reach families and encourage them to consider vaccination.
Dougherty encouraged parents and other family members of children to talk to a pediatrician or health care provider they trust for answers about vaccinations. She encouraged parents to be active about vaccinations especially at a time when holiday gatherings or mutations, like the omicron variant of COVID, raise the possibility the virus will see future surges of spread.
More information about the Little Arms campaign, which includes information about the dates and locations of upcoming vaccination clinics, can be found at tinyurl.com/3x4tk6f8 online.
CASTLETON — A Castleton University professor is helping educators learn how to better serve students experiencing trauma.
Alex Shevrin Venet is an author and educator who teaches classes in trauma-informed education at Castleton University Center for Schools.
She explained that trauma-informed education is a growing field that has attracted more attention in recent years.
Venet noted that while many school districts have been offering teachers and staff professional development opportunities on the subject, her course allows people to go deeper and sustain what they learn.
“Trauma-informed practices isn’t something that you can learn about in a workshop, and then you’re just good to go,” she said, noting that concepts are constantly evolving.
The education website Edutopia explained that trauma-informed education — which examines how factors such as racism, poverty, peer victimization, community violence and bullying impacts students — is a process that requires learning and adjustment on the behalf of educators.
“Approaching education with an understanding of the physiological, social, emotional and academic impacts of trauma and adversity on our students is driving changes in our systems,” it stated in a 2019 article.
According to the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health, 46% of children in the U.S. had experienced at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE). For children aged 12-17, that number rises to 55%. The survey further reported that 20% of children had two or more ACEs.
The National Education Association maintains that research shows children who experience ACEs are more likely to exhibit negative behaviors at school, develop risky behaviors and face negative health consequences throughout their lifetime, including reduced life expectancy.
“Trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed environments allow educators the opportunity to collaborate in a way that supports a student’s mental and physical health so that learning can occur,” an NEA statement reads.
Venet previously taught at Center Point School in Winooski, an alternative school with a large population of students who had experienced trauma or had not been adequately supported in a traditional school setting.
It was at Center Point where she said she first encountered trauma-informed practices.
“They’ve sort of been doing trauma-informed before it was a buzzword in education,” she said.
From there, Venet’s interest in the subject grew. She began doing more teaching, training and writing about the concept with a particular focus on equity.
His current course, “Leadership for Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education,” is being offered online through Castleton this semester, attracting educators from across the country, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.
Venet said the course focuses on how to lead change for making schools more trauma informed.
“What I have found often in working with teachers is that they’re really interested in trauma-informed education, they want to try it in their classrooms, but then they feel like they’re facing roadblocks to actually implementing it more broadly,” she said.
The class, then, focuses on ways of getting more buy-in from school communities so change can occur.
Venet explained that the class is designed for people who are leaders either by title or informally. Her current class features a broad mix of educators, including classroom teachers, graduate students, social-emotional learning coordinators and equity coordinators.
Venet said her work focuses on three components of trauma-informed practices: responding to the impacts of trauma on students, ensuring that trauma isn’t happening inside schools, and looking more broadly at how education can help disrupt the existence of trauma.
A key issue, she said, is addressing instances of “curriculum violence” — lessons or other classroom activities that negatively affect a student emotionally or intellectually — explaining that the goal should be to make schools “places where students aren’t being harmed by what we’re teaching or how we’re teaching.”
Another outcome she envisions is creating school environments where students feel empowered to disrupt systems of oppression and injustice.
Venet describes the process like a “butterfly effect” that she hopes will create a more equitable society, telling educators that this work is bigger than simply addressing the immediate needs of students currently in the classroom.
“If we can help to educate kids to speak up and to recognize when harm happens and to repair harm with others using restorative practices, (then) we’re helping to create and raise people who are disrupting the things that cause trauma,” she said.
To that end, Venet helps her students navigate the broad field of trauma-informed education to zero in on areas that are important to them and within their sphere of influence.
She cited the example of one teacher in her class who is focusing on embedding trauma-informed practices in her classroom’s morning meeting structure and eventually bringing that model to other teachers in her school community.
Maggi Ibrahim, an equity coordinator at Hartford School District, called Venet’s course a “total mind shift,” explaining it has helped her confront and examine her own educational philosophies, particularly in how schools can induce and be indifferent to trauma.
Ibrahim said she is learning that trauma-informed education isn’t about fixing kids because “kids aren’t broken” — it’s about repairing the systems that can cause harm.
“All of my work in my job is looking at policies and systems and trying to create systems that address inequities that are built into our society,” she said. “Getting us to think about systems instead of people, that’s, like, the No. 1 thing. That’s the shift that I’m trying to make.”
She said the systemic issues that need to be addressed aren’t unique to her school district, which she said has made real progress to establish universal practices that benefit all students; rather, those issues are endemic in the American public school system.
“Public schools have not been built in a way that addresses all children’s needs. They were just never thought of that way. Public schools have always been built in a way where it’s … a one-size-fits-all approach.”
Kaetlyn Collins, is a Castleton graduate student who’s also taking Venet’s course.
A licensed teacher currently working as a tutor at Castleton’s writing clinic, Collins said the course is a good fit for her thesis project, which is focused on issues of equity in the LGBT community and other marginalized groups.
“We’ve got to be proactive with our efforts when we are teachers and dealing with possible trauma,” she said.
She believes having a foundation in trauma-informed practices will put her “a couple steps in the right direction” as far as knowing how to address trauma when she becomes a teacher.
“I want to bring forth the information to create a classroom that is helping students,” she said.
The defending champion Proctor boys and girls basketball teams are trying to find their identity as the season approaches. B1