Dear LMSD Families,
Once again, I am writing to update you on recent developments regarding our plans to reopen schools in September. As has been the case often since we first closed our buildings in March, our plans are changing and developing as we try to both anticipate and react to external forces, including the public health situation and changing guidance from various governmental entities. I know that we are all anxious for answers as September draws ever nearer, but I appreciate your patience as we continue to work toward providing the best options for the health and safety of our students and staff during this difficult time.
Ongoing Reopening Work
Our Instructional Committee continues to meet, as they have been since spring, to plan for all the different scenarios under consideration. They are working on essentializing the curriculum, dividing students into cohorts for hybrid scheduling, orientation plans for students who will be new to their buildings (Grades K-1, 6 and 9), grading, kindergarten scheduling and accelerated professional development.
Our Operations Committee is working with all building principals to determine placement of necessary supplies, such as dividers, event tents, face masks and hand sanitizer stations. They are also evaluating all building spaces to determine where students can socially distance for activities such as lunch and mask breaks. And they are removing furniture, rugs and other items to maximize space and cleaning efficiency. We are also contracting with an outside provider to increase cleaning capabilities throughout the day. Additionally, the transportation department is investigating expanding walk zones to de-densify buses.
At the July 20, 2020, meeting of the Lower Merion Board of School Directors, the Board approved an LMSD Emergency Instructional Time Plan. This plan is being submitted to the Pa. Department of Education (PDE). PDE approval will enable the District to count instruction provided remotely towards the days and hours required by PDE for the school year. If it is approved, we will have much-needed flexibility and options to decide how best to both provide instruction and to protect the health and safety of students and staff. Once the District has permission to offer remote instruction, the Board will vote again on the specific remote instruction plan.
At my request, the Board delayed their vote on the District's proposed Health and Safety Plan. I asked for this delay because I have increasing concerns about how our expectations of the Red/Yellow/Green phases, as they were initially presented, have not materialized. For example, our county was not supposed to move to "Green" until cases of COVID-19 were decreasing and until testing and contact-tracing were widely available. We are now in "Green," which theoretically would enable us to open schools, yet the public health realities do not align with those standards. Test results – even in cases where people can access the tests – are taking 10 days to two weeks. We also have heard directly from individuals who have received positive test results, but have not received the necessary follow-up for contact-tracing to occur. For these reasons, I have gone back to the members of our Reopening Task Force and asked them to reconsider their proposed plan to take these realities into account.
A critical component of how we will move forward involves continuing to receive feedback from our families. So far, these efforts have included:
- Meeting bi-weekly with a Parent/Guardian Focus group that includes individuals with children in all of our schools, who have diverse professional backgrounds and family situations. Their time and input have been extremely valuable.
- Reviewing some 400 emails to our 2020ReopeningComments@lmsd.org mailbox, which have been read and summarized for the Board and Reopening Task Force members.
- Administering a Staff Survey that was sent out the week of July 20, 2020.
To continue this process, we have sent out a Family Survey, about which you should have received information last week. If you have not completed it, I urge you to complete the survey found here. The survey will close Thursday, July 30, 2020 at noon.
In addition, each of our principals and our special education team will be hosting Zoom Information Sessions this week, where parents and guardians can see presentations on the District's plans to date and ask general questions about the plans as they apply to their children's schools. Principals and Ms. Fraser, Director of Student Services, are providing the Zoom information about those meetings. Here is the meeting schedule:
-Monday, July 27th 7:00 p.m. Special Education
-Tuesday, July 28th 6:00 p.m. Penn Valley, Cynwyd, Merion
-Tuesday, July 28th 7:00 p.m. Harriton & Lower Merion
-Wed. July 29 10:00 a.m. Special Education
-Wed., July 29th 6:00 p.m. Belmont Hills, Penn Wynne, Gladwyne
-Wed. July 29th 7:00 p.m. Welsh Valley
-Wed. July 29th 7:30 p.m. Bala Cynwyd
Lower Merion Virtual Academy
Last week, members of our curriculum, counseling and student services teams participated in Information Sessions about the Lower Merion Virtual Academy, our current fully virtual option, which we are offering in partnership with the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit's MVP Program. We understand that families investigating this option are looking for increased connection to LMSD staff and, pending the results of our staff survey and family surveys, will be investigating options of increasing opportunities for students opting for a fully virtual model to connect with staff from our District. Additional questions about this option should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
LMSD is inviting Township officials, local childcare providers, local faith organizations and some of our community's large employers to join us later this week for a Childcare Summit, to brainstorm about ways to answer our community's childcare challenges. Whether LMSD opens fully (in which case, schools could be ordered closed again), with a hybrid scenario or in a fully remote model, families will likely need additional childcare options. Both additional locations and childcare workers will likely be needed.
I hope that despite the current uncertainties, you and your families are staying safe and enjoying the summer.