Update of Supt. Copeland’s health and safety planning
Health and safety planning for the coming school year
17th August 2021
Dear LMSD families,
Although we can still enjoy a few more weeks of summer until school starts on September 9, 2021, I would like to share with you some of our current thoughts on health and safety planning. Our Health and Safety Committee met weekly throughout the summer, and we continued to consult with the Montgomery County Office of Public Health (MCOPH) and CHOP’s PolicyLab in formulating our plans.
As you probably know, the public health situation in our community is changing rapidly with the advent of the Delta variant. With the changing conditions, we’ve seen changing leadership. And it seems likely that the situation will remain fluid when students return to school. As I share our current planning, please understand that all plans are subject to change and that changes can be made without notice. What won’t change is our commitment to doing our best to provide safe, full-time, personalized tuition to all students in the coming year.
At the start of school, all students, employees and visitors in the school buildings must wear face masks at all times, regardless of their vaccination status. It is also compulsory to wear a mask on school buses. Students who are more than three feet apart and wearing masks may not need to be quarantined, even if they are in close contact with an infected person, as long as they are not symptomatic. In other words, masks help keep students in school.
A “face mask” is a covering of the nose and mouth that is attached to the head with ribbons, ribbons, or loops over the ears. A cloth mask, a surgical style face mask, a KN95 mask, or an N95 mask are all acceptable options. Face masks or gaiters are not allowed.
Students may be exempted 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), which exclude the use of a face mask. Disability eligibility and arrangements are made in collaboration with the student’s health care provider, school nurse, and the IEP or 504 team. Asthma and most other conditions are not a contraindication to using a face mask.
Currently around 90% of LMSD employees are fully vaccinated. Employees who are not vaccinated or who do not wish to share their vaccination status with the district will be tested for COVID-19 twice a week. LMSD has strongly encouraged everyone in our school community who is eligible to be vaccinated; However, due to privacy laws and employee concerns, the district will not disclose or encourage its employees to disclose sensitive health information, whether it is vaccinated status or any other medical condition.
We asked families to provide proof of vaccination for students who were vaccinated outside of an LMSD vaccination clinic. The percentage of students who were vaccinated by LMSD, broken down by class and school, is shown in the graph below:
Those percentages are below what he’d hoped to see now that vaccines are available to anyone over the age of 12. We still strongly recommend vaccinations. If high schools can reach a 90% vaccination rate, the Health and Safety Committee will consider whether masks are still required in Lower Merion and Harriton.
LMSD will also host another vaccine clinic, details of which will be announced in the coming days.
LMSD is developing an audit trail plan for approval by the MCOPH. The tests of the ACE-IT project will continue. Details of additional testing requirements and opportunities for students and staff will be provided once approved.
Contact tracking and quarantines
LMSD will continue to notify all members of each school when a positive case of COVID-19 is reported. The notifications contain the grade level. Any identified close contact with the infected person in the school will be notified directly by a member of the LMSD Student Health Services Department. Whether or not to quarantine these close contacts depends on a number of factors – including masking, vaccination status, and exposure conditions – as per guidelines from the Montgomery County Office of Public Health.
With a full return to in-person tuition for all students, it will not be possible to maintain a two-meter distance in most situations in the school. As far as possible, a distance of three meters is maintained in the classrooms. Elementary school students, who need to be closer than three feet, will sit in “pods” to minimize exposure and facilitate contact tracing. In order to keep a distance of two meters as far as possible during lunch when masks cannot be worn, schools will continue to use auxiliary rooms, including lobbies, gyms, lecture halls and outdoor tents (weather permitting). As far as possible, seats will be allocated during the lunch break in order to facilitate contact tracking if necessary. Seats are also allocated in buses. Lunch and Learn will return in high schools, with students being encouraged to keep their distance while eating.
The ventilation systems in LMSD’s buildings met or exceeded ventilation standards even before the pandemic. However, the district has increased the ventilation and filtration of the HVAC equipment – subject to the systems’ capacity limits. This includes installing MERV 13 filters in all schools and installing bipolar ionization in large group rooms such as fitness studios and lecture halls, as well as HEPA filtration in health suites. In addition, LMSD will install wall-mounted CO2 detectors in all classrooms where these detectors are not integrated with the HVAC systems. These wall-mounted detectors will replace the handheld models used by caretakers and principals to monitor these classrooms last year.
Let me reiterate that school is more than three weeks away and the protocols and procedures outlined here may be updated. School principals will hold parent / guardian meetings over the next few weeks to discuss school-specific plans and precautions. Until then, I hope you find this advance info helpful so you can keep enjoying summer and planning September.