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August 5, 2020 Update from Superintendent

August 5, 2020 Update from Superintendent
Posted on 08/05/2020
8-5-2020-Update-from-Superintendent-virtual-reopening

Dear School Community,

I would first like to thank each and every one of you for your patience, understanding, and participation in the decision-making process for the upcoming school year. In today’s message, I want to update you on some extremely important information regarding the opening of school. Based on current health data trends in Delaware County coupled with emerging logistical issues related to the district’s staffing, I will recommend to the Board that the district begin the 2020-21 school year virtually. We would remain in virtual learning throughout the month of September. If health data stabilizes and the health experts are comfortable with reopening schools, we would then bring back cohorts of students on alternating days. Decisions regarding bringing back students would occur during the September 22nd School Board meeting, and then the implementation bringing in cohorts of students would occur during the beginning of October.

Since it has been several days since we presented our instructional delivery options, Dr. Hutchinson created an overview of our fully online format, which includes significantly more live instruction, engagement, and structure than last year’s virtual model. To access the overview, please CLICK HERE. Dr. Hutchinson and her team will be offering live informational sessions detailing specifics about the virtual learning plan beginning next week. These Zoom sessions will be scheduled both during the day and during the evening to give parents maximum flexibility. We will also record the sessions so that parents can review them at their leisure. A registration email will go out later this week so that you can sign up to attend.

Realizing that community members will want to know why we are proposing a change to the plan the Board approved on July 28th, I am providing a detailed overview of the reasoning behind it

COVID-19 Trend Data in Delaware County–On Tuesday I met with county superintendents, representatives from the Chester County Department of Health, Dr. David Rubin, Director of PolicyLab and Director of Population Health Innovation at CHOP, and Dr. P.J. Brennan, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Pennsylvania Health System. During the meeting, superintendents learned that case counts are rising in Delaware County with 513 new cases in the week ending July 31st compared to 380 new cases the week before. Case counts are the number of people who are testing positive for COVID-19. These counts include children and adults.

We also learned that when looking at our public health data, it is critical to review both the daily positive case counts, cumulative cases and counts over 7 and 14 days. Other data points are also evaluated, including hospitalizations and deaths. Based on this trajectory, we are still experiencing an upward trend both in our county and region. CLICK HERE to view an interactive map that helps to show the increases.

Predicting the course of the pandemic is difficult,  primarily because it relies on personal responsibility to follow masking and social distancing guidelines, and to obey travel restrictions. These simple steps will accelerate the reduction of positive cases. With so many of our families going on and/or returning from vacations, we believe that these trends will continue, especially when students return to school after the Labor Day holiday. 

It is our hope that depopulating our schools for one month will allow for any potential infections brought into our community from holiday travel to lessen before bringing large groups of students and educators into school. The worst scenario would be opening schools only to close them a few days later because of an outbreak. In the meantime, and in collaboration with health officials and experts, we will continue to review public health and medical recommendations for school reopening

Logistical Complexities–As I’m sure you are aware, more and more school districts are electing to start the year virtually. Although these decisions are the responsibility of individual districts, their impact is shared throughout the region. For example, in Garnet Valley we have several employees with children in schools that have elected to start the year virtually. As a result, staff members are being forced to seek federally approved leaves of absence. This dynamic is exacerbated by those who require leave for pre-existing conditions and other high risk factors.  Additionally, throughout the summer we have had employees who were symptomatic or who had family members infected with the virus. These individuals were required to stay out of work for several days with some remaining home for two weeks. As we try to plan for the implications of having employees on leave, coupled with the potential of employees having to quarantine or recover, the practical “boots on ground” realities of keeping schools running remains complex. 

However, despite these obstacles, the district has already secured 24 substitutes exclusive to the Garnet Valley School District, and has partnered with the YMCA to provide affordable childcare options for our employees. For those who have requested long term leaves of absence, we have begun hiring replacements. Again, we continue to work toward our main objective, which is to get our students back in school for in person learning. 

Other Important Areas of Interest Impacted by this Change

Special Education–The district recognizes the challenges that virtual learning has on all students; however, we realize that some of our learners need even more support based on the special education services that they receive. Terri Bracken, Director of Pupil Services, along with our Assistant Directors Kim Hassel-Klauss and Dan Arrison will communicate directly with parents to explain the nuances of their individualized learning plans in this virtual environment. Please CLICK HERE for additional information about special education services for September.

Athletics and Extracurricular ActivitiesWe believe that extracurricular activities are fundamental to students' social and emotional health. We also know that parents and students are concerned about their status as the opening of school approaches. As a district, we fully support extracurricular activities as long as we can ensure the physical health of our students and adults. Safety standards will be made uniform between academic and extracurricular programs. It is important to point out that these activities may look very different this year as some may be virtual and some may have to break participants into smaller groups. 

To this end, all Varsity and JV practices are delayed until at least September 7th with all competitions delayed until at least September 25th for football, boys and girls soccer, field hockey, cross country, and volleyball. Girls tennis competitions will be delayed until at least September 14th and golf until September 11th. 9th Grade and Middle School Practices will be delayed until at least September 28th with competitions delayed until at least October 12th. These delays are designed to give the district time to monitor health data and other related factors that will impact our athletics program. 

If we are able to have competitions, they will be against Central League schools only and will be predicated on the availability and “doability” of transportation. As with everything during the pandemic, this timeline could change as information and conditions evolve.

All other extracurriculars including marching band and the performing arts will start as schools reopen as long as they are able to adhere to the health precautions and can be delivered virtually. Again, this plan gives us time to monitor and adjust to conditions. Frankly, if forced to make a decision today, we would have to cancel our extracurricular activities, but like our approach to academics, we are doing our best to preserve as many facets of our programming for students as possible. 

Next Steps

Our School Board continues to value transparent communication.  As a result, they will vote on changing our reopening plan from a hybrid model to an all virtual model on August 10th. As we have done previously, the community can utilize this link (CLICK HERE) to comment and ask questions. In addition, I will communicate the link to the August 10th Board meeting in the next few days for those of you who are interested in attending virtually. 

Sincerely,

Dr. Marc Bertrando, Superintendent

Garnet Valley School District

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