July 13, 2020 Update on Reopening Plans from the Supt. Copeland
Dear LMSD Families,
As you've likely heard, how schools should reopen for the upcoming year has been the topic of much discussion recently among politicians, health experts and the media. Here in the Lower Merion School District, our goal remains the same. We are working towards a safe and equitable return to school for all students and staff. During this time, just as when we are not dealing with a pandemic, the safety of students and staff is our top priority.
I understand that there are economic implications, childcare implications, social and emotional implications and, of course, educational implications to the decisions being made as we strive to meet this goal. We are also working within state and federal guidance that continues to change and is at times contradictory. Therefore, our plans for reopening are not yet finalized and will likely continue to be revised throughout the summer. Again, I will continue to share updates with you approximately every two weeks.
As a reminder, a dedicated email account has been created for our families to share feedback and questions regarding our reopening plans. That email is 2020ReopeningComments@lmsd.org. I would like to thank the many parents and guardians who have already shared their input, from which we have developed a list of Frequently Asked Questions, which we are posting on the COVID-19/Back-to-School page of our District website and which we will update them as our plans change and new issues arise. I urge all families to read through the FAQs.
Below are some specific updates and reminders that have developed since my last letter.
Under the current guidance from Gov. Wolf, students will be expected to use face coverings in school, when social distancing cannot be maintained. In the "Green" phase, with all students in their classrooms, this means students will need to wear face coverings throughout the day. Face coverings may be removed to eat when social distancing can be maintained, for exercise outdoors and during "mask breaks" when social distancing can be maintained. We are looking at all of our buildings to determine where students will be able to have socially-distanced lunches. State guidelines allow exceptions for health conditions that contraindicate mask-wearing. Students may wear face shields that extend below the chin instead of a mask, if preferred, over or in addition to a mask.
Staff will also follow state guidelines for using face coverings. In some cases, staff members may wear face shields in addition to or instead of masks. This may include staff who work with students with special needs, nurses, etc.
The District Solicitor is currently reviewing whether students who refuse to wear face coverings, and are not exempted from doing so, can be excluded from school.
Parents/guardians are urged to begin to acclimate children to wearing a face covering now by modeling and practicing at home, where they feel safe. Encourage children to decorate and personalize their masks, as this may help create a sense of ownership and control of the situation.
Schools will provide one face covering per child, but families are urged to make or provide their own, so that they can be kept clean. Face coverings will be required for all students on LMSD buses.
One of the biggest challenges ahead will be providing adequate social distancing on school buses. As I mentioned in my previous updates, parents/guardians who can drive their children to school, or walk them to school, should plan to do so. A survey is being prepared to determine accurate counts for students who may qualify for busing but will be choosing an alternate form of transportation. This will allow for better planning and fewer students on each bus.
To support de-densifying our buses, work will begin with the Township in an effort to hire and place additional crossing guards to safely expand our walk zones. If more students walk to school, our buses will be less crowded and therefore pose less of a transmission risk.
Additionally, bike racks are being provided at all schools, to enable students to use bicycles for transportation. Students will need to provide their own bike locks. If there is demand, the District will provide even more bike racks to further encourage bike riding.
In my previous update, the possibility of starting the school year early was mentioned. Our instructional team has decided that Orientation Days will be offered for new students entering Kindergarten or First Grade, for 6th graders and for 9th graders. These orientation days will be optional. Grades 6 and 9 Orientations will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. K-1 Orientation Days will be held the week of August 31. Elementary school principals will share additional schedule details in the coming weeks.
In addition to the Orientation Days, schools will be developing and sharing videos and other materials to help students familiarize themselves with new procedures that will be in place when they return to school. These may include new doors and entry/exit procedures, new rules about how they pass between classrooms, which stairwells they will be using, using backpacks instead of lockers, where they will be eating, etc.
Lower Merion Virtual Academy
For various reasons, some families may not be comfortable having their children return to in-person instruction until COVID-19 is under control. That is why the District is partnering with the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit's MVP (Montgomery Virtual Program) to offer the Lower Merion Virtual Academy.
This online education option will enable students to remain enrolled in their LMSD home school, but receive their education at home. Registration is expected to open later this week and will remain open until August 14, 2020. Once the LMVA pages of our website are up and running, you will receive an email directing you to where you can find more detailed information about this program and how to register.
Finally, I understand that many families have concerns about how they will manage if our District institutes our "Yellow" phase, hybrid scenario, with students having two days of in-person instruction and three days of remote instruction each week. I know that this is not ideal, for a long list of reasons. I would like to reiterate that our hope and preference is that all students will be in our schools for the upcoming year. However, if the public health situation warrants changing our plans, we must remain flexible.