Dear LMSD Families,
The situation surrounding COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania and in our community is changing rapidly. Unfortunately, incidence rates, positivity rates and hospitalizations are rising. Here in Montgomery County, our positivity rate is 3.8%, which is within what is acceptable for keeping our schools open. However, the incidence rate is 63.2 per 100,000, which is above our desired threshold of 35. And health experts are predicting the numbers could rise in coming weeks.
The good news is that that the Health and Safety protocols within our schools are working. While we have seen a small number of positive cases in our schools, we are not seeing evidence of in-school transmission; however, what happens in the broader community may impact our ability to keep schools open in the coming weeks and months. Our District Health and Safety Team is in daily contact with the Montgomery County Office of Public Health (MCOPH) and we continue to consult with Dr. David Rubin and Dr. Susan Coffin of the PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. When MCOPH advised us to close Merion Elementary, we did. And we will continue to follow their direction.
I know that many of you have questions about why Merion, with just one confirmed case, was closed while Welsh Valley, with three confirmed cases, remains open. At Merion, two other individuals reported being symptomatic, leading MCOPH to be concerned that there could be related cases indicating the possibility of an outbreak. The Welsh Valley cases were clearly unrelated to each other, therefore MCOPH did not consider those cases to indicate an outbreak. While this may seem confusing, we will continue to follow MCOPH's directives. If discretionary choices must be made, we will err on the side protecting the health of students and staff.
Looking ahead, according to the most recent guidance provided to area superintendents by Dr. Rubin, if our community sees a trend of increasing incidence and positivity rates, particularly if the positivity rates near 7% or more, it will necessitate considering a return to fully remote instruction at some or all of our schools. This is not the only "measure" we monitor. As rates increase, testing and contact-tracing may take longer to complete, leaving more staff and students at home under quarantine. Staff absences could pose challenges for providing adequate supervision and distancing in our schools. We are planning for these possibilities even as we work hard to keep our doors open under the Health and Safety protocols of our hybrid models.
As much as we try to plan, we may be forced to close schools on short notice, due to outbreaks or due to a significant number of staff members being ordered to quarantine. Sometimes, the District receives information about confirmed cases and quarantines late in the day, or on a weekend. To that end, we have asked the principals to have teachers remind students to bring home certain items (like their devices and chargers) nightly. What students will need to bring home will vary by grade and class. Teachers will be judicious about whether heavy textbooks must be transported, as we know those backpacks can get quite weighed down.
In addition, our administration is weighing the possibility of proactively calling for school closures/remote instruction days around planned holiday breaks, as many colleges and universities are doing. At this time, we feel it is too early to make a final decision on extending Thanksgiving and/or Winter Break. But we will continue to consult with the doctors at CHOP's PolicyLab and with MCOPH when considering those options.
We have stated before that the return to in-person instruction was likely to have multiple stops and starts and that remains true. However, there are steps that we ask everyone in our community to take to give us the best chance of staying open safely:
- Continue to wear masks in public, wash hands frequently and maintain physical distance
- Avoid unnecessary travel and social gatherings
- Screen daily and stay home if COVID symptoms are present
I also thought it would be helpful to share Montgomery County's guidance for Halloween. Please read this prior to celebrating this weekend.
On a final positive note, I want to share that I am truly impressed by our students. They are being diligent about wearing masks and following the rules for their buildings. I am also impressed by our teachers and staff who have truly leaned in to the challenges of our hybrid model with energy and creativity. As it has been stated many times, we are all in this together. And that is certainly the case here in LMSD.