5-Day In Person Reopening for LMSD Elementary Schools

5-Day In Person Reopening for LMSD Elementary Schools

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Sue Moritz, Concerned LMSD Parent started this petition to LMSD Families and Taxpayers

Dear LMSD Board Members, Superintendent Copeland, and School Administrators,

We, the LMSD families and taxpayers, are asking that you please consider different in person reopening options for elementary, middle school and high school students. Under normal circumstances, school being fully open five days a week is the best model to support the educational, social, emotional and developmental needs of all students. However, we are no longer living under “normal” circumstances, and we recognize that the risks presented by the current COVID-19 pandemic must be carefully considered by LMSD when determining reopening plans.

LMSD has proposed two models to parents/students for the 2020-2021 school year - either:

1. All virtual model through LMSD Virtual Academy or LMSD@Home, or
2. In person model, which could entail either (a) full 5-day in person, (b) hybrid (2 days in person, 3 days remote), or (c) fully remote if school closure is necessary.

This petition specifically focuses on the reopening plans for the in person model, and respectfully requests that LMSD choose:

  • Elementary School → 5-day in person reopening
  • Middle School and High School → hybrid reopening or 5-day in person if social distancing is possible

LMSD has already outlined the numerous safety protocols that are being put in place to protect students, teachers and staff, and we are now requesting that LMSD also consider the different levels of risk presented by each student population.

The hybrid model does not provide the in-person, synchronous learning that our youngest children need, and will actually *increase* the potential exposure risk to elementary students, teachers, staff and community at large. The hybrid model is being touted as safer than full reopening because less kids in the classroom means 6 ft of social distancing can be maintained.  However, for elementary students, on the three days when those children are at home with asynchronous instruction, many will be joining learning pods with other kids both within and outside their classroom cohort, and they will be encountering outside adult caregivers, where social distancing is not guaranteed. Unlike junior high or high school students who can manage remote learning on their own and be at home without a caregiver, that is not the case with our youngest students - someone needs to be watching them.

If elementary school children are in school 5 days a week, they will have limited contacts with adults outside of their classroom teacher. If they are home for three days, parents will need to find outside caregivers, which exponentially increases the number of contacts the children will have (and then bring back into the classroom), which from an epidemiological standpoint is not good.[1] 

Dr. William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has stated: “[Kids] are obviously much less seriously affected, and when I'm talking about kids here, I mean the under-10s. Because there's a real difference between the younger age group and the older age group. I personally think it's really helpful to separate this out into questions about the risk to children, the risk to those who care for them — both educators and parents at home — and then the rest of the community as a whole, because it's the amount of community spread in the end that we're going to be really, really worried about...I actually think that the hybrid model is probably among the worst that we could be putting forward, if our goal is to stop the virus getting into schools...My personal view is that it would be more sensible to consider prioritizing the younger age groups for as much education as possible.”[2]

We all want our children, teachers and staff to be safe, and LMSD has indicated masks will be required, physical distancing will be observed when possible, and proper hygiene/hand washing will be increased. For elementary schools, LMSD has also indicated movement through hallways and transitions will be limited, additional entrance and exit doors will be used and specials teachers will come into the classroom in 12-week rotations to limit exposure between teachers and students. While maintaining 6 ft of physical distance is a recommendation if it’s feasible, we also know that children under 10 are less likely to spread the virus [3] (teachers are more likely to infect the children than the other way around),[4] less likely to become severely ill or die from the virus[5], and for all ages, wearing masks reduces the risk of transmission[6]. European and Asian countries that have fully reopened elementary schools have done so successfully.[7] Dr. Hanage of the Harvard School of Public Health noted “if you look at the sort of places which have managed to do this well, which include various countries like Denmark and Finland, you can see that it is possible to reopen schools for younger kids and there's actually very little evidence of transmission.”[8]

While we have focused on safety above, we cannot lose sight of why going to school is such a vital and essential part of our children's lives - it doesn’t just provide our children with a much needed education - it also provides our children with social interaction, emotional and developmental support, and for many, the only food they may eat that day.[9],[10],[11] The school closure that occurred in the spring took an enormous toll on our children across all grade levels - it affected them mentally, emotionally, socially, and developmentally, and not least of all, robbed them of the education they deserved.

For our youngest students, the asynchronous instruction in the spring was incredibly challenging, and did not provide the same or even close to the same learning that they would have received in the classroom. The hybrid model being proposed by LMSD would entail 3 days of primarily asynchronous instruction for elementary students yet again - that equates to 108 out of the 180 state-mandated days of instruction being spent without any live, in person contact between young students and teachers. If teachers will be teaching the same lessons to Cohort A on Monday/Tuesday and Cohort B on Thursday/Friday, with minimal synchronous instruction on Wednesday, there is no way our teachers and youngest students will have enough time together to cover the standard curriculum, let alone have time to adequately address social and emotional development as well.         

It is not possible to eliminate all risk, but when you factor in what we know about the virus and the age 10 and under population, the increased risk of additional outside contacts that will necessarily take place in the hybrid model, the current low positivity rate in Montgomery County (and more specifically Lower Merion Township)[12] and the myriad safety protocols that LMSD is putting in place, the 5 day in person model for elementary school is the best option for our students, teachers and staff.

We are asking that you please provide a 5-day in person reopening for elementary school students and not force all students into a one-size-does-not-fit-all in person model.

Sincerely,

LMSD Families and Taxpayers

 

References:

[1] Coronavirus: Why kids aren’t the germbags, and grownups are: As school districts sweat over reopening plans, a growing body of research suggests young children are unlikely to transmit COVID-19 virus. They get it from us.

https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/07/10/coronavirus-why-kids-arent-the-germbags-and-grownups-are/

[2] Harvard Epidemiologist: 'Hybrid' Model For Reopening Schools Is 'Probably Among The Worst' Options

https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2020/07/30/harvard-epidemiologist-hybrid-model-for-reopening-schools-is-probably-among-the-worst-options

[3] Harvard Epidemiologist: 'Hybrid' Model For Reopening Schools Is 'Probably Among The Worst' Options

https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2020/07/30/harvard-epidemiologist-hybrid-model-for-reopening-schools-is-probably-among-the-worst-options

[4] Coronavirus: Why kids aren’t the germbags, and grownups are: As school districts sweat over reopening plans, a growing body of research suggests young children are unlikely to transmit COVID-19 virus. They get it from us.

https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/07/10/coronavirus-why-kids-arent-the-germbags-and-grownups-are/

[5] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/reopening-schools.html;

https://data-montcopa.opendata.arcgis.com/pages/covid-19?fbclid=IwAR3M39PhR-gZqka30jR0pEdHj3bLwf84zsWSi-5BfI3ZtMvA5baYYfLEmRE

[6] Prevent Spread, Lessen COVID Severity: Research Confirms Mask Benefits https://khn.org/morning-breakout/prevent-spread-lessen-covid-severity-research-confirms-mask-benefits/; https://www.healthline.com/health/cold-flu/mask#types-of-masks

[7] Reopened schools in Europe and Asia have largely avoided coronavirus outbreaks. They have lessons for the U.S. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/schools-reopening-coronavirus/2020/07/10/865fb3e6-c122-11ea-8908-68a2b9eae9e0_story.html

[8] Harvard Epidemiologist: 'Hybrid' Model For Reopening Schools Is 'Probably Among The Worst' Options https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2020/07/30/harvard-epidemiologist-hybrid-model-for-reopening-schools-is-probably-among-the-worst-options

[9] New England Journal of Medicine Recommends Reopening Elementary Schools - Here's Why https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMms2024920

[10] CDC Strongly Recommends Reopening Schools https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/reopening-schools.html

[11] https://www.lmsd.org/lower-merion/about/newsroom/article/~post/asdf-20200730; https://www.lmsd.org/about-lmsd/newsroom/article/~post/important-information-about-meals-for-children-20200508

[12] https://data-montcopa.opendata.arcgis.com/pages/covid-19?fbclid=IwAR3M39PhR-gZqka30jR0pEdHj3bLwf84zsWSi-5BfI3ZtMvA5baYYfLEmRE

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