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11-20-2020 Community Update

11-20-2020 Community Update
Posted on 11/20/2020

Dear School Community,

I wanted to update you on various topics as we prepare for the holiday season. As I’ve done in the past, I’ve structured my message by topic so that parents can either read it in its entirety or go to their areas of interest. Today’s message includes information on: (a) the Thanksgiving School Schedule; (b) Masking and Travel Orders from the Pennsylvania Department of Health; and (c) Maintaining the Hybrid Instructional Learning Model. 


Thanksgiving School Schedule

The district will conduct parent conferences next week for students in grades K to 8. Our high school students will be in session on Monday and Tuesday with Wednesday scheduled as a half day ending at 11:24AM. Schools will be closed on Thursday and Friday. All buildings will reopen on Monday, November 30th, and we will maintain our hybrid learning model. 


Masking and Travel Orders from the Pennsylvania Department of Health

I adamantly support our current delivery model. Anecdotally and based on the experience of other districts, it is evident that schools are not spreading the virus at a rate that is outside of our ability to contain. Additionally, the academic, social and emotional well being of our students, after 8 months of the chaos that this pandemic has caused, continues to be at risk. We must do our best to meet their needs with the ultimate goal of getting back to in person face-to-face learning.


This objective is not without hardship. Our teachers continue to work at a fast, tireless pace providing learning and care for our students, our support staff has taken on ever expanding roles, and our administration has now added contact tracing and other public health responsibilities to their ever growing list of priorities. Similarly, our parents are now caregivers and tutors. However, with the vaccine on the horizon, we cannot let our guard down. We have to continue to be resilient and patient, and we have to follow the health precautions. The one thing that we know is that the virus is coming into our schools from home, sleepovers, travel sports, restaurants and other places. We, therefore, urge everyone to uphold the health precautions in their daily lives, especially during the holiday season.


To this end, I’m sure that all of you are aware of the four new mitigation efforts which Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, announced on Tuesday. The efforts include: Protecting Our Health Care Systems, Traveler Testing, a Strengthened Masking Order, and recommendations for Colleges and Universities. Each order is hyperlinked in the event you would like to read them in their entirety. Specifically, I wanted to bring your attention to the masking and travel orders.


We have done a great job with masking, so I don’t believe that the updated guidelines will impact us a great deal. However, please be mindful that the updated order now mandates the following:

  • Masks must be worn indoors and outdoors if you are away from your home. This includes all school buildings.
  • Masks must be worn outdoors if you cannot remain at least six feet away from someone not in your household the entire time you are outdoors.
  • Masks are required indoors, even if you are more than six feet apart from members not in your household. 

The travel order, especially at this time of year, is more complex. It states that, “Pennsylvanians visiting other states must have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to their return, or else they need to quarantine for 14 days.” Clearly, these guidelines present a challenge during the holidays when all of us desperately want to visit with friends and family. Nonetheless, the Department of Health is hoping that by staying home and limiting the number of folks with whom we interact, we will help to curb the spread of COVID-19.


We encourage everyone’s cautiousness and ask that you avoid social gatherings in addition to making an effort to stay in state. If you do host or attend a holiday gathering, please wear a mask when indoors and keep a distance from people not in your household. Likewise, if you do travel, follow the guidelines to return; even so, in the absence of a test, we urge you to follow the required 14 day quarantine. 


We have come so far and worked too hard to let our guard down now. 2020 will remain a year of historic significance, and as a result, let’s accept the extraordinary circumstances that it has presented and change our planning accordingly. Please stay home and limit your interactions over the break. Those who don’t follow the guidelines jeopardize our ability to keep schools open.


Maintaining the Hybrid Instructional Learning Model

Although some districts have reverted to virtual learning, Garnet Valley continues to experience stable data in regard to COVID cases in our schools. For example, based on the district dashboard (to access it, click here), which has been publicly displayed on the website since October 12th, we’ve had 3 elementary students test positive, 5 middle school students, and 10 high school students. Comparably low, are our employee positivity rates. We have had 5 elementary staff who tested positive, none at the middle school, and 6 at the high school. Although we don’t discount the recent aggressive spread of the virus in our region, our schools have seen only 9 positive cases with students and employees over the last two weeks. It is for this reason that I strongly believe that our health precautions coupled with our mitigation efforts are working. 


Nevertheless, based on the county and regional data, the obvious question that arises is “If rates are escalating, why isn’t the district reverting back to all virtual learning?” Back on November 10th, the Chester County Department of Health issued a position statement (the entire statement can be found by clicking here) that supported districts staying in their hybrid delivery models. As of a meeting with the CCDH this morning, this recommendation has not changed, and the Department’s rationale is embedded in the fact that schools are perhaps the best examples of the implementation of health precautions, and they believe districts’ efforts are working. Also, the way that we cohort and roster our students in classrooms and buses allows for efficient and effective contact tracing that helps to mitigate exposure. Finally, as of writing this message, the vast majority of our cases have come from outside school circumstances.


The Department’s letter goes on to state that along with the existing guide rails of incidence rates and PCR Test Positivity, other factors must be considered. These factors include:

  • the number of COVID-19 cases and/or outbreaks in schools
  • evidence of transmission within schools
  • staffing levels
  • adherence to preventive measures, etc. 

We’ve talked about the comparatively low number of cases in our schools. As for evidence of transmission, we have had it in two of our buildings. One occurred in a self contained special education classroom and the other was at one of our elementary schools where the transmission occurred with adults and not students. In both cases we were able to quarantine classes and mitigate any further spread. 


Also encouraging is the fact that the Governors of the Northeastern states put out a joint statement that also supports our decision to stay in hybrid learning. Perhaps you saw it on social media, I took a screenshot to share with you, and it appears below:

As for staffing, simply stated we are blessed with an extremely committed and devoted administration, faculty, and support staff.  Our educators have the technological capacity and the expertise to continue the education of students even when some of them have been  forced to quarantine. Also, we proactively hired a number of substitutes and trained them so we can offer a great deal of flexibility. This fact is a testament to the proactivity and support of the Board and the entire school community.

As I’ve stated repeatedly throughout the pandemic, today’s message could change dramatically tomorrow. Although we continue to do a great job mitigating the spread of COVID in our schools, there may come a time when we will need to quickly revert back to virtual learning. We fully realize the complexities that families experience when changes occur, so we will do our best to give you advance notice, and in turn we will need your understanding when circumstances dictate more immediate action. 

Have a healthy and safe weekend!

Dr. Marc Bertrando, Superintendent

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