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June 25, 2020, Update from Supt. Copeland on Reopening
June 25, 2020, Update from Supt. Copeland on Reopening

Dear LMSD Families,

I hope you are enjoying the start of summer. Although classes have ended, our Reopening Task Force continues its work to plan a safe and equitable return to school for all students in the fall. While we are currently assuming that Montgomery County will be in the "Green" phase in September, our planning continues to stress flexibility and fluidity, as it seems likely the County could move among the "Green," "Yellow" and "Red" phases throughout the school year. In some ways, "Red" – when schools are fully closed – and "Green" – when schools are fully open – are the easy parts. It is the "Yellow" phase, which will likely necessitate a hybrid model of in-person and remote instruction, that is the most challenging to plan for. Below is an update on our ongoing work:

Health and Safety Plan
Our District Health and Safety Team is working to develop a Health and Safety Plan, that must be approved by the Lower Merion Board of School Directors and submitted to the Pa. Department of Education in order for our schools to open for in-person instruction in the "Yellow" or "Green" phases. (This is a change. Prior guidance had said that schools would remain closed in "Yellow"). The Health and Safety Plan, includes attention to a variety of measures including, but not limited to, attendance, screening, protective equipment, social distancing, and cleaning. Both "Yellow" and "Green" plans cover the same topics, but differ in what MUST, SHOULD, or MAY be included. Our District plan will also take into account mental health concerns and the needs of special education students.

PIAA Sports
On Monday night, the Board approved the District's Health and Safety Plan for PIAA sports for the summer and fall. This plan, which goes into effect on July 6, 2020, will enable voluntary summer sports practices to begin. Coaches will be providing instruction for at-home versions of summer workouts for athletes who prefer not to train in a team setting. You can read the plan here.

New K-12 Summer Program
The Administration is recruiting additional staff for the Lower Merion K-12 Summer Program, for which there is currently a waitlist. This is a free regular-education program designed to provide maintenance and enrichment of fundamental knowledge and skills, allowing students to begin the 2020-2021 school year confident and ready to learn. The four-week virtual program will run from July 21, 2020, to August 13, 2020, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. Students can choose the Math option, literacy option or both. Click herefor more information and the registration link. Registration closes today.

LMSD Virtual Academy
Additionally, LMSD will be offering the LMSD Virtual Academy for those children who will not be able to attend school in 2020-2021, due their own health concerns or those of their families. This no-cost option for remote learning will use resources from the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit. Some staffing or staffing support may be provided by LMSD staff or by retired LMSD teachers. The program will not be drop-in/drop-out. Enrolled students would be expected to stay in the program for at least a semester at a time. Additional details and registration information will be shared soon, but you can get an idea of the program by watching this orientation video from the MCIU.

Ongoing Scheduling Considerations
In the past two weeks, I and members of our Reopening Task Force met with school staff members, with our Parent/Guardian Focus Group and with our Academic Council – a group comprised of all of our principals, cabinet members and department directors/supervisors. During these sessions, we answered questions and weighed the impact of a variety of scenarios, or hybrid plans that combine in-person and remote learning, that we could implement in the "Yellow" phase, where social distancing guidelines are stricter and not all students will be able to be in classes at the same time.

The plan that our Instructional team is recommending at this time (though this is NOT finalized) would have half of the students attending in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half of students attending in-person classes on Thursdays and Fridays. Schools would undergo deep cleanings on Wednesdays and remote learning (both synchronous and asynchronous) would be provided on Wednesdays and the days when students are at home. This plan aligns with the latest PDE guidance on mitigating health risks while providing ongoing instruction in the "Yellow" phase.

We are also looking at whether to begin the school year prior to the planned first day of classes, which is Sept. 8, 2020. While we may offer early start opportunities for our youngest learners (K-1) and those students transitioning to new schools (Grades 6 and 9), it is unlikely our entire District will begin early. We have important Professional Development on Equity and Anti-Racism planned for our staff, which we do not want them to miss.

FAQs

Within the month, we will be sharing a Frequently Asked Question document with LMSD families. This will be a living document on the COVID-19 information page of our website and will be updated as the situation warrants. For now, we can share the following information, that will be relevant and may be helpful as you and your children begin the summer.

What You Can Do Now

  • If you are able to drive your child to school during the upcoming year, please plan to do so. All students on buses will be required to wear masks and buses will be sanitized daily, but maintaining social distance on bus rides will not be possible due to the number of students the District must transport.
  • Practice mask-wearing with your child. It is likely that masks will be required, not only on buses, but also in hallways and other places where social distance between students cannot be maintained. If more children are used to wearing masks and seeing people wearing masks, this "new normal" will be an easier transition for them.
  • Emphasize good hygiene, such as frequent handwashing for at least 20 seconds and using hand sanitizer, with your child. Handwashing time will be added into the school days for elementary students and sanitizer stations will be added throughout the middle and high schools to encourage good practices.
  • Consider and line up childcare options, should your child need to be home for either days or weeks at a time during the school year. This may occur due to a need to quarantine after exposure, if we are in "Yellow" and not all students can be in school every day, or if we are in "Red" and schools are once again closed.

Finally, we have created a dedicated email account where you can send questions, concerns and suggestions regarding our fall reopening. We may not have all the answers right away, but members of the Reopening Task Force will read the emails and take them into consideration as we continue planning. The email is: 2020ReopeningComments@lmsd.org.

Sincerely,

Robert Copeland
Superintendent