Health and Safety Planning for the Upcoming School Year
August 17, 2021
Dear LMSD Families,
Though we still have several weeks of summer to enjoy before the start of school on Sept. 9, 2021, I wanted to share some of our current thinking regarding health and safety planning. Our Health and Safety Committee has continued to meet weekly throughout the summer and we have continued to consult with the Montgomery County Office of Public Health (MCOPH) and CHOP's PolicyLab as we formulate our plans.
As you are likely aware, the public health situation in our community is changing rapidly with the emergence of the Delta variant. With the changing conditions, we have seen changing guidance. And it seems likely that the situation will remain fluid as students return to school. Therefore, as I share our current planning, please understand that all plans are subject to change, and that changes may occur with little notice. What will not change is our commitment to doing our best to provide safe, in-person, fulltime instruction to all students during the upcoming year.
When school starts, all students, staff and visitors will need to wear face masks in school buildings at all times, regardless of vaccination status. Masks are also required on school buses. Students who are more than three feet apart and who are wearing masks may not need to quarantine, even if they are a close contact of an infected person as long as they don't have symptoms. In other words, masks help keep students in school.
A "Face Mask" means a covering of the nose and mouth that is secured to the head with ties, straps or loops over the ears. A cloth face mask, surgical style face mask, KN95 mask or N95 mask are all acceptable options. Valved face masks or gaiters are not permitted.
Students may have an exemption from wearing a face mask due to medical conditions or disabilities as documented in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that preclude the wearing of a facemask. Eligibility and accommodations for a disability will be made in partnership with the student's health care provider, the school nurse and the IEP or 504 team. Asthma and most other medical conditions are not a contraindication to the use of a face mask.
At this time, approximately 90% of LMSD staff are fully vaccinated. Staff members who are not vaccinated or who choose not to share their vaccination status with the District will undergo COVID-19 testing twice each week. LMSD has strongly encouraged everyone in our school community who is eligible to get vaccinated; however, due to employee privacy laws and concerns, the District will not disclose, or encourage its employees to disclose, any confidential health information, whether it be vaccination status or any other medical condition.
We have asked families to share proof of vaccination for students who were vaccinated outside of an LMSD vaccine clinic. The percentage of vaccinated students reported to LMSD, by grade and school, is shown in the graph below:
These percentages are below what he had hoped to see, now that vaccines are readily available to anyone over age 12. We continue to strongly encourage vaccination. If the high schools can reach a 90% vaccination level, the Health and Safety Committee will review whether masks will continue to be necessary at Lower Merion and Harriton.
LMSD will also be hosting another vaccine clinic, details of which will be shared in the coming days.
LMSD is developing a testing protocol plan for approval by the MCOPH. Project ACE-IT testing will continue. Details for additional testing requirements and opportunities for both students and staff will be shared once they are approved.
Contact-tracing and Quarantines
LMSD will continue to notify all members of each school when a positive case of COVID-19 is reported. Notifications will include grade level. All identified in-school close contacts of the infected individual will be notified directly by a member of the LMSD Student Health Services Department. Whether those close contacts will be required to quarantine will depend on a number of factors – including masking, vaccination status, and circumstances of exposure -- according to guidance from the Montgomery County Office of Public Health.
With a full return to in-person instruction for all students, it will not be possible to maintain six-foot distancing in most situations in school. Three-foot distancing will be in place to the extent possible in classrooms. Elementary students who must be closer than three feet will be seated in "pods" to minimize exposures and make contact tracing easier. To ensure six-foot distancing to the extent possible during lunch when masks cannot be worn, schools will continue to use auxiliary spaces, including lobbies, gyms, auditoriums and outside tents (weather permitting). To the extent possible, seats will be assigned at lunch, to facilitate contact-tracing if necessary. Seats will also be assigned on buses. In the high schools, Lunch and Learn will return, with students encouraged to maintain physical distance whenever they are eating.
The ventilation systems throughout LMSD's buildings already met or exceeded ventilation standards, prior to the pandemic. However, the District has increased the levels of ventilation and filtration of the HVAC equipment – subject to capacity limits on the systems. This includes the installation of MERV 13 filters throughout the schools and installation of bipolar ionization in large group spaces, such as gyms and auditoriums, and HEPA filtration in health suites. In addition, LMSD is installing wall-mounted CO2 detectors in all classrooms that don't have those detectors built-in to the HVAC systems. These wall-mounted detectors will replace the handheld models that custodians and principals used to monitor those classrooms last year.
I want to reiterate that we are more than three weeks from the start of school and the protocols and procedures described here may be updated. Principals will be hosting parent/guardian meetings in the next few weeks to discuss school-specific plans and precautions. Until then, I hope that this preliminary information is helpful to you as you continue to enjoy the summer and plan for September.