Message from Dr. Hacker
November 6, 2020
Dear Staff, Families, and Students,
We are eagerly anticipating welcoming back our students into our schools next week. Although we know that there is some anxiety about coming back together, we are confident that throughout our district, we have excellent measures in place for those students whose families have chosen to have them return to in-person learning. Our staff has spent this entire week preparing for next week's re-entry of students. The technologies needed to assist with simultaneous delivery of lessons to students, both in and out of our buildings, are in place. Our teachers have prepared their classroom set-ups, with desks spaced safely apart, with appropriate PPE available. Our buildings are all cleaned and sanitized. In short, we are ready to go!
We remain optimistic that we can deliver hybrid instruction safely to those children who will be returning, but we are also mindful of and realistic about the news of increasing cases, both nationally and in our local region. We are still fortunate that case levels, measured by both incidence and positivity rates, are low in Montgomery County and in Springfield, but numbers are increasing. Incidence rates, a measure of positive cases per 100,000 individuals, in our area are now at 71.29, up from 20 a few weeks ago. Positivity rates, measured as a function of positive cases among those tested, average 4.93% county-wide. Guidance from doctors at the Children's Hospital of Phila. warns us that in colder weather, respiratory droplets can linger longer in the air, which can spark virus transmission. The colder months tend to bring more flu, colds, and other illnesses causing spread of germs, weakening immune systems and leaving many individuals more susceptible to the coronavirus. We know that many people are experiencing "Covid fatigue" and resulting increases in anxiety, stress, and inability to deal with Covid restrictions often lead to a relaxation of precautions.
Nonetheless, we must all continue to do what the doctors have called "surge planning and preparation". We have been assured by infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists that linked transmission events in schools tend to be low. Most transmission occurs outside of a school setting. But, we cannot let our guards down as we are planning to bring children into schools. We will continue to monitor a number of factors to ensure that it is still safe for our schools to remain open. These factors include a two-week steady increase in the incidence rate above 100/100,000 and positivity rates approaching 7% or higher, cases of classroom or building or local transmission, and other specific data about instances, such as parties, events, gatherings, or celebrations that could spark exposure or transmission and lead to a return to virtual instruction for any group of students, a classroom, building, or the entire district. We will continue to work in close conjunction with the Montco Office of Public Health to help us determine if conditions become unsafe and shutdown is needed.
All of the doctors continue to emphasize that the most effective strategies for combatting transmission include 1) the wearing of masks (we have communicated the recommended types of masks to wear), 2) continuous social distancing of at least 6 feet or more, and 3) frequent hand washing. While other measures, such as cleaning of surfaces and ventilation are important, they are not as significant in stopping the spread of the virus as the first three. We urge everyone to bear this in mind, especially as the holiday seasons are approaching. Please help us to keep our staff and children safe, and limit your potential exposures to others by following those three simple steps. We are all in this together! I remain optimistic that we all can do this, and that we can work as partners to allow our children continued opportunities to experience learning and coming together with teachers and classmates throughout the winter months.
Dr. Nancy Hacker
Dear Staff, Parents, and Guardians,
As we head into October, I wanted to provide you with an update regarding our plans for the re-opening of in-person instruction in our schools. I have been closely monitoring continued updates, including from a new Montco Office of Public Health source that provides data for our own Springfield Township, on the coronavirus incidence and positivity rates in our area. I am very happy to report that our positivity rate over the past two weeks is at the lowest levels ever for our area since March! While we are testing more, and many of those tests are negative, the good news remains that our incidence rate is approximately 20 cases per day for every 100,000, which is far below the more typical 35 or so cases per day we were seeing over the summer. The positivity rate is hovering around 1.32% currently, also way below rates that were around 3.5% several weeks ago. This gives us all a strong rationale for trying to get students back into school so that they can enjoy the benefits of in-person learning and socialization.
In order to safely re-open schools, I am once again requesting that you complete the brief survey that will assist us with our planning, at the link below, by Monday, October 12th.
Our current planning calls for opening back up our schools in a hybrid model on Monday, November 9th, at the start of the 2nd marking period. We plan to open ALL schools in a hybrid model, with half our students in on Monday and Tuesday, and the other half in on Thursday and Friday. All learning will be asynchronous on Wednesdays. We hope to do this in such a way, with coordination across buildings, so that siblings can come to school on the same days. This means that our teachers will be teaching with half the class sitting in front of them in school, while the other half of the class is live streaming in from home. The schedule will be different, including more days in person and sooner than November 9th, for our special education students. The reason for this hybrid schedule is that we simply cannot safely socially distance students a minimum of 6 feet apart from themselves and from their teacher unless classes are split in half. This option, just like virtual instruction, has limitations. It is not an ideal environment for our students, and it is not an ideal teaching situation for teachers who are trying to manage students in front of them as well as those at home. However, we do not have enough space in the entire district to spread students out sufficiently unless we only bring in half the number of students each day. Further, the logistics of planning for re-entry are complicated. Every aspect and minute of the day must be carefully designed so that students do not walk or gather together as they typically do in groups, whether on the bus, as they walk into or out of school, in the hallways, or sitting in the cafeteria. Principals have devised plans that replicate the schedules that students are on now so as not to disrupt those existing schedules.
I also wish to make everyone aware that the success of re-opening is dependent on the continued partnership between home and school. So far, our athletes, as an example, have done a remarkable job keeping safe and adhering to everything that we have asked of them, and we have not had any instance of transmission or virus as a result. We hope that all of our families will continue to do their part to ensure that we all adhere to social distancing and wearing masks outside of school, as well as in our schools. We are all in this together, and while we are weary of the restrictions placed on us, we are all well aware of the stories that we have heard about schools that have opened, and have had to shut down again because of positive cases. We do not want that to happen, and we must safeguard the health of every single staff member and student entrusted to us.
If you have specific questions regarding any aspect of our re-opening plans, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR BUILDING PRINCIPAL. While plans are not yet finalized, the principals will be able to address any concerns or questions you may have.
Thank you for your continued support, and parents and guardians, please complete the survey at your earliest convenience.
Dr. Nancy M. Hacker
Message from Dr. Hacker
October 15, 2020
Dear Staff, Parents, and Guardians,
This message is to share some of the planning that is taking place in our buildings prior to the re-entry of students and staff in our hybrid model. Our principals and administrators are working each day to ensure safe and healthy practices and conditions for the return to school. My thanks to those of you who completed the parent or staff surveys, which are helping us to get an idea of who will be back. I would also recommend that you contact your child's teacher(s) and the principal if your choice will be for virtual instruction in the home all five days, so that they all can plan accordingly.
Please take a look at each of the areas covered below, and if you have more specific questions or concerns between now and November 9th, the date of our return, please be sure to contact your building principal. Principals will be communicating additional detailed information regarding the return to school within the next weeks as well.
1. PPE - All classrooms will have ample supplies of disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer (also in hallway dispensers), extra masks, gloves, and protective shields if needed. Please note: Masks will be required to be worn by all students and staff on buses, and in buildings, at all times other than when eating.
2. Building videos - We are developing videos of spaces in each school to share with our families and staff, so that you can view how social distancing in those spaces will be achieved. Videos will highlight distancing between classroom desks, markings in the hallways, and seating for lunch in the cafeteria or other spaces, and should be helpful for reassuring you of what conditions will be within in each school. SEE VIDEO HERE
3. Protocols for suspected cases of COVID - please refer to our website main page at sdst.org, under "COVID-19 Resources at https://www.sdst.org/covid-19-resources/index to see the Montgomery County Office of Public Health Exclusion Guide, and an explanation of the difference between quarantine and isolation. When a report is made of suspected or confirmed exposure or a positive case, we have identified lead individuals in our district who will report this information and work with the Montco OPH to immediately implement contact tracing, notify anyone who might have come into concerning contact in the building with the individual, communicate whether quarantine is warranted, and communicate with staff and/or families as needed.
4. Technology - we recommend that families consider the purchase of ear buds to facilitate learning. We can assist for families who need financial support with these or other tech needs. We have ordered speakers to amplify sound and have ordered additional devices on hand in classrooms to help with instructional delivery.
5. Bus transportation - we will do our best to provide social distancing on our buses, however, we are currently experiencing a shortage in the number of drivers available, so we may need to consolidate runs, which would mean more students on each bus. We will be starting up our non-public bus transportation next week, but once we are also doing public school runs, buses can become more populated. We recommend that siblings sit together. (Please contact our Transportation Dept. if you know of someone who would be interested in training to become a school bus driver for us!)
6. During the week of November 2nd through November 6th, schools will be closed on November 3rd for Election Day. On November 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 6th - Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday - we will have live instruction each morning, but in the afternoons, our teachers will be working on preparing their classrooms for the following week's return to in-person instruction. Therefore all afternoon sessions on those days will be asynchronous.
7. Please help us to keep students and staff safe by keeping children home when ill. This includes those with severe colds, flu-like symptoms including fever, nausea or vomiting, and/or diarrhea. We would also request that you notify the school nurse immediately if any child has been exposed to any individual who has tested positive for coronavirus or who also has been potentially exposed to someone with the virus.
We look forward to welcoming back our students and staff to school on November 9th, and hope this provides you with some information about this return. Thank you for your cooperation, and for working with us to ensure a smooth and safe transition!
Dr. Nancy Hacker
October 29, 2020
Dear Staff, Parents and Guardians,
As we approach our start-up to in-school instruction in our hybrid model on November 9th, there are a few items I wish to bring to your attention. As you are already aware, our staff will be involved in training activities tomorrow afternoon, and every afternoon next week in order to prepare for the return of our students. All staff will be setting up their classrooms and technologies to facilitate communication and instructional delivery for those both in school and at home. They will also be meeting as grade level and department teams, preparing for the return of students, and at Enfield, preparing to orient students to a new school environment as well as to the in-school experience for our young kindergarten children. As you know, we have prepared a video that gives you a good representation of some of the procedures that we have put into place to help students and staff stay safe. Safety precautions will be a major focus of our meetings with staff next week.
At our Board meeting on Monday, November 2nd, the Board will be approving our revised Health and Safety Plan. In addition to the resources located in the COVID-19 section of our website, the Health and Safety Plan outlines many of these individual school building protocols, as well as those on the bus and in cafeterias. The Plan, after its approval next week, will also be posted on our website for your viewing.
At the county level, we are engaged in planning for a presentation for parents by Dr. David Rubin of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, that we will post to our website once completed. The purpose of the video presentation will be to provide parents with critical answers to frequently asked questions, particularly now, with the news of a nationwide surge of the virus in most of our states. A representative group of teachers from all of our county districts had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Rubin this past week, and Board members will have an opportunity to meet with him and other doctors on November 5th. These meetings are being held so that staff, board members, and families can hear from the experts in response to their concerns about this surge of the virus and school re-opening. We are fortunate so far that in Springfield Township, we are still at a very low rate of positivity, and that is true in the county as well, where we are still in the 3.1 to 5% range county-wide. However, we are all aware that this can change, and our major concern is that an exponential increase in positivity rates may be on its way in our region. If that is true, this predicted increase and surge could impact how long our schools remain opened.
I know that many of our families, students, and staff are anxious to return to school for a variety of reasons. Others have concerns, fears and anxiety over bringing students and staff back into schools. I wish to reassure you all that we have, and continue, to work exceptionally hard to be able to bring everyone back safely. We have implemented many protocols to keep everyone safe. We know from the experience of other schools that we can make this work. The experience of other area schools that have opened has shown that there have been many successful openings. But, in order to prevent another shutdown, and a rise in the number of cases we see in our community and in our schools, we must ALL work together. The doctors are advising us that the potential for transmission is greater in cold weather, when respiratory droplets tend to be suspended longer in the air. We know that more flu and other sickness can weaken immune systems. And we know that Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the winter holidays pose threats due to larger gatherings of family and friends. We all must be mindful of this and do everything we can to reduce the risk of exposure and transmission, if we wish to see schools remain open for learning. The greatest barriers to this are a local positivity rate, within our community, that surges to 8% or more, numerous staff outages due to illness or quarantine, and any significant outbreak in a school or across the district. We hope this will not occur, but we will continue to monitor the local data for our area each week so that it can continue to guide our decision-making, along with the other factors mentioned.
Again, as we approach the Halloween holiday, if you plan on having your child(ren) participate in trick or treating or other events, please consider how you can provide a safe, yet enjoyable experience for our children, without risk of exposure, so that they will remain healthy and able to come back to school the following week!
Dr. Nancy Hacker