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Lower Merion School District


Update of Back-to-School Planning from Supt. Copeland
Update of Back-to-School Planning from Supt. Copeland

Dear LMSD Families,

As promised in my letter two weeks ago, I am writing to provide you with another update on our planning process for a return to school in the fall. Again, I must emphasize that no final decisions have been made about what September 2020 will look like. Earlier today, we received new guidance from the Pa. Department of Education (PDE) and we continue to receive additional new information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Montgomery County Office of Public Health. Despite the rapidly changing guidance, our framework as we look to a safe reopening remains constant:

  • LMSD will follow recommendations from the state and federal government, as well as the Montgomery County Office of Public Health to determine when it is safe to reopen schools.
  • While taking steps to simultaneously restore and redesign instruction, LMSD will prioritize ensuring the safety and health of students and staff in accordance with medical recommendations and guidelines.
  • We will need to prepare for various school start scenarios, as well as future school closure scenarios, ranging from all students being in school to all students learning remotely and hybrid options between the two.
  • We anticipate a range of responses from the community regarding any decisions made
  • Reopening plans will be subject to continuous review and revision.

The new guidance from PDE indicates that schools may now be allowed to reopen for in-person instruction in the "Yellow" phase as soon as July 1, if certain conditions can be met. This is a change from earlier directives that said schools would not be able to reopen until the "Green" phase. In order to offer any in-person instruction, we need to submit an extensive Health and Safety Plan for PDE review and take numerous additional steps. This work is underway.

We are also reviewing our plans for summer programs, which we had planned to offer remotely. Offering in-person instruction will require significant changes in staffing, facilities usage and other procedures that may not be possible to implement safely by July 1. Therefore, at this time, we anticipate most summer programs will remain remote. However, if we can offer in-person summer learning opportunities, we will and we are working to develop new programming to enable that effort.

Looking ahead to fall, it appears that we will be in the "Green" phase. Our goal remains to safely open schools for in-person instruction to the extent possible, knowing that conditions may change and require a return to remote instruction for certain individuals, buildings or even the entire District for unknown periods of time. As part of those considerations, we are investigating whether we may be able to provide our own LMSD cyber school for students who are unable to attend in-person classes for an extended period of time.

As we as District Administration look ahead, we ask you as parents and guardians to do so as well. Some particular issues will require your support and cooperation and we ask you to begin considering these now:

  • Transportation: Transportation will be a challenge, as the recommendation is to limit the number of children on buses. Therefore, we ask parents/guardians to begin to consider how and whether they will be able to transport their own children to school, if they live outside of the walk zones.
  • Children's Health: We will also need the support of parents/guardians to ensure that any children who may be exhibiting any symptoms of illness are kept home and to understand that children who arrive at school displaying symptoms will need to be picked up immediately.

Below are brief updates on the work of some of the various subcommittees of our Reopening Task Force:

Health and Safety: This committee has created a six-page working document outlining critical information and decision pathways impacting social distancing (both for buildings and transportation), between-class transitions, building access, PPE acquisition and usage, cleaning and disinfecting, modifying high-risk activities, and nursing considerations.

Curriculum and Instruction: This committee is working on implementing a free summer program available to all students in K-12 help fill gaps and prepare students for the upcoming year. Additionally, they are working on Professional Development for all teaching staff to enable them to implement better tools and methodology for remote learning, including the possibility of an LMSD cyber school option.

Rapid Response: Plans have been made and implementation is underway for students to retrieve personal items from schools and return items (such as textbooks, computers, etc.) to schools and for staff to clean out classrooms for summer cleaning and maintenance.

Facilities and Operational Usage Logistics: This committee is recommending the suspension of facility usage by outside organizations and community groups once buildings reopen to students/staff. Also, they are researching and ordering PPE, sanitizing equipment and protective shields for various locations/personnel. They report that supply chains are disrupted and many products are not available in a timely manner.

Communications/Outreach: In addition to providing this update, this committee organized a (zoom) parent/guardian focus group meeting with the Administration leadership to get feedback and hear concerns about remote learning and the various reopening scenarios under consideration. The focus group included parents/guardians in two-career households, essential personnel, families of students with special needs and representatives from schools across the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Technology: This committee is working on increasing the number of devices available to students and staff, should remote learning need to continue. Supply chain issues plague the technology sector as well and some items such as Chromebooks and MacBooks may not be available in a timely manner. They are also investigating cameras and microphones for classrooms that could allow for synchronous learning from outside the classroom.

Other Reopening Work:

  • Polling staff to ascertain availability for possible summer programming
  • Ensuring that free meal distribution will continue through the summer
  • Ongoing hiring and recruitment
  • Communication with the Pa. Department of Education for clarity regarding requirements for the upcoming year
  • Meetings with superintendents from other Districts to share best practices, brainstorm, lobby legislators, etc.

Our work will continue, despite the upcoming end of the school year for our students. We will also continue to update you every couple of weeks as we work through the many remaining questions and uncertainties. We hope you and your families are and remain well.


Robert Copeland

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