August 6, 2020
Dear LMSD Families,
Last night, the Lower Merion Board of School Directors voted to start the school year virtually, until at least October 5, 2020. I recommended a virtual start to the year because the health and safety of our students and staff is always our top priority. Although Montgomery County is making efforts to improve the availability of rapid testing and contact tracing, those services are not yet available to the extent needed to protect the adults and children who would be interacting daily in our buildings.
This was not an easy decision for the Board. I know the Board members appreciated the thoughtful emails they received from so many stakeholders. We are all aware that our children benefit most from in-person instruction and face-to-face daily interactions with their teachers and peers. We are aware that our youngest learners and some with special needs struggle to use devices effectively. We know that many families face challenges in providing care for children during the day, when parents and guardians must work. But with so much unknown about the transmission and long-term effects of COVID-19, the majority of Board members agreed that protecting the physical health of our students, staff and their families tipped the scales in favor of this option.
This morning, our Reopening Task Force met to continue the work that has been ongoing since March, fully focused on the challenges ahead, now that we know our reopening plan. Here are our priorities for the coming weeks:
- Refining specific data-driven metrics for a safe return to our buildings, which remains our primary goal, in consultation with public health officials and other medical professionals.
- Prioritizing a return to in-person instruction for vulnerable, high-need special education and ELL students, and early learners.
- Planning for orientation opportunities for students and their families. This will include safe procedures for students to meet their teachers and new classmates, and to pick up devices, textbooks and other resources to support their virtual instruction.
- Special emphasis on students who are new to their schools
- Includes resources for caregivers to help them guide virtual instruction
- Finalizing plans for LMSD@Home, our K-12 virtual option taught by LMSD educators and following LMSD curriculum. Look for emails early next week about informational sessions and registration. This option is for families who know they want to keep their students at home, even as the District works to phase in to in-person instruction.
- LMVA remains an option for families who prefer more asynchronous instruction at home.
- Supporting the needs of the community
- Meeting with local childcare providers and supporting their efforts to provide care during the day to school-aged children
- District-sponsored internet service to families in need
- Taking the necessary steps to continue to provide free meals to children
- Staffing to support the virtual start to the school year, a phased safe return to in-person instruction and the LMSD@Home option
- HR is working with staff members who have specific concerns
- The Instructional Team is finalizing the before-school Professional Development to ensure all staff are well equipped for virtual instruction and a smooth transition to in-person teaching.
As we continue to work on these priorities, we are also considering the emotional well-being and mental health of everyone in our schools. We want all of our students to feel a sense of safety, value and belonging, even if they are not yet in our buildings. In addition to our ongoing reopening planning, we will soon be sharing information on the first meeting of the AdHoc Committee on Equity and Anti-Racism, which will be held on August 13, 2020, at 7:00 p.m. We cannot let this important work take a backseat.
You will continue to hear from me and your children's principals, as we work toward our first day of school on Sept. 8, 2020.