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Important School Opening Update

Important School Opening Update
Posted on 08/13/2021
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Dear School Community,

Garnet Valley School District is committed to providing 5 day a week, in-person learning for all students for the entire 2021-22 academic year. Therefore, on Tuesday, August 31st we will welcome all of our students back into our schools. We are thrilled for the opportunity!

 

The district will implement the health mitigation strategies that proved successful last year including masking for all students, employees, and visitors while they are indoors. Indoor masking begins on Monday, August 16th and will remain in place until transmission levels subside. Our decisions regarding mitigation strategies, especially related to masking, support our collective goal as a community to maintain full-time, in-person instruction for the entirety of the 2021-22 academic year.  Read on for more specific information and details.

 

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Health Precautions:

With uninterrupted, in-person learning as our goal, we have reviewed and compared our health plans with the various guidance from the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, CHOP PolicyLab, as well as applied the advice of the medical consultants with whom we work at a county level. We are fortunate in Garnet Valley that our classrooms can already accommodate a minimum of three feet of social distancing, all individuals are encouraged to access hand sanitizing stations throughout our buildings and lavatories, each building has newly updated HVAC units, custodial teams have electrostatic foggers to assist with nightly disinfecting, our nurses will continue to use the BinexNow antigen testing to assess symptomatic individuals, and our school community continues to cooperate and act responsibly when exhibiting symptoms. These precautions have been in place for over a year in our district, and we know that they are effective in minimizing spread of COVID-19.

 

Regardless of the other health precautions, we realize that many in our community are most interested in how the district will address masking. In consideration of the fact that the level of community transmission in Delaware County is substantial, all students, employees, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear masks while indoors as of Monday August 16, 2021 when our teachers and various student groups begin arriving to the district until transmission levels subside. This change is aligned with the recommendations of the CDC, the PA Department of Health (the entity that now oversees school districts in Delaware County), the PA Department of Education, and the PA Health Alert Network.

 

Since sending my last message on July 23rd the county’s case count has gone from 36 to 84 on August 12th, a reversal that none of us wanted to see, and an alarming increase that our health consultants do not believe will subside prior to the start of school. Although we are not seeing nearly the same significant and severe levels of consequence that we saw early on in the pandemic , there is still much that we don’t know about the virus. Nevertheless, the level of transmission is the highest that it’s been since last spring when masks were mandated in our district. Therefore, we will implement the following mask requirements:

  • Masks will be required for all employees, visitors, and students in grades Kindergarten through 12th grade regardless of vaccination status beginning on August 16th.
  • Masks are required on all district buses based on the CDC requirement.
  • Masks are optional in all grades when outdoors. 

Rationale for the Masking Requirement:

  • The county is now under the oversight of the PA Department of Health, which recommends following the CDC guidance.
  • The PA Department of Education also recommends following the CDC guidance.
  • Students under 12, which in Garnet Valley represents 2,203 children or 48% of our total enrollment, are currently not approved to receive the vaccination, which experts agree is the best way to protect against COVID-19 and mitigate its symptoms. 
  • Masking allows for traditional instructional strategies including such things as reading groups, collaborative activities, labs, etc. Activities such as recess and physical education will also go back to their traditional practices. These strategies are critical to maximizing learning as well as giving students opportunities to engage socially. 
  • Last year we had to quarantine over 1200 students who were close contacts and who as a result missed countless hours of in-person instruction. Masked students who are close contacts to an infected individual WILL NOT have to quarantine. Per the CDC guidelines “In the K–12 indoor classroom setting, the close contact definition excludes students who were within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student where:  both students were engaged in consistent and correct use of well-fitting face masks; and other K–12 school prevention strategies (such as universal and correct mask use, physical distancing, increased ventilation) were in place in the K–12 school setting.” Therefore, even if a student is a close contact of a symptomatic individual, if both are masked, he/she can remain in school. Without having to quarantine masked students who are close contacts, we realize uninterrupted learning for the maximum number of students. We will continue to provide learning opportunities for students who are at home with symptoms while they await the results of a COVID test, are in quarantine, or test positive.  
  • Although we requested the information from various sources, we do not have verification of the exact number of students 12 and older who have been vaccinated.
  • Our schools, especially at the secondary level, are considered large based on enrollment. With hundreds of students in congregate settings such as hallways, courtyards, and locker bays, masking will offer a level of protection when classes change and large gatherings cannot be avoided.
  • Starting the year with everyone masked is the most universally applicable option, but we hope to relax it as more individuals get vaccinated and transmission levels subside. Within a school setting, it is much easier to impose rules and then relax them instead of trying to create new rules once the year has begun. Learning routines require consistency, and we know that our students will have an easier time complying with expectations around masking if we teach those routines from the start of school, especially since our students were accustomed to masking because of their experience last school year. 

Guide Rails for Future Masking Decisions:

I can assure you that the decision to implement masking was not taken lightly nor are we ignoring the positive experience that we enjoyed over the summer when it was optional. We, however, believe strongly that if full-time, in-person instruction is our overriding objective, implementing universal masking is the most effective way to achieve it. It is important to highlight that contact tracing and quarantining are mandatory public health directives, so with the county at a substantial level of transmission and trending toward the high category, having the ability to keep students in school who are close contacts is a major factor that we must consider.  Should the transmission levels peak and then go down, we will make adjustments accordingly. For example, when the county returns to moderate transmission levels for a two week period of time, we may consider returning to mask optional in grades 7 to 12 and even may consider making masking optional at the K to 6 level should we return to low transmission.

 

There will be additional communications from your children’s building principals as we get closer to the first day of school. I want to emphasize that our decisions regarding mitigation strategies, especially related to masking, support our collective goal as a community to welcome back our students to full-time, in-person instruction. The district will continue to closely monitor the Delta variant and its impact in and around Delaware County, and depending on how this situation evolves, we may reassess and be able to relax masking requirements back to “optional” in the coming weeks. Nevertheless, the great news is that all of our children will be back in school for 5 day a week, in-person instruction for the entirety of this school year.  

 

Finally, I am aware of the polarized perspectives on masking and vaccinations. I respectfully ask you to remember that there are countless reasons for our community members to make decisions regarding these important issues. Let’s continue to respect and support one another as we are unified both as a school district and as a school community now, and in the academic year ahead.

 

For those community members who wish to view the guidance from the health entities, I’ve included them here: CDC Guidance on the PDE website–click here; American Academy of Pediatrics Guidance–click here; CHOP PolicyLab Guidance–click here; and CDC COVID Data Tracker–click here.

 

Sincerely,

Dr. Marc Bertrando, Superintendent

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