Important Health & Safety Plan Recommendation Update

August 13, 2021
 
Dear PRSD Students, Parents and Staff,
 
As we shared earlier this week, the Health and Safety Plan recommendations to start the 2021 - 2022 school year are outlined below:
 
Recommendation to Start:
●     Start the 2021 - 2022 school year with full in-person instruction and a series of mitigation strategies that include required masking indoors for all students, staff and visitors.
 
Concise Rationale:
●     In-person learning is the most important shared goal of our community.
●     In addition to the health protections, this approach sets a foundation for continuity of in-person learning while significantly reducing risk of quarantine-based disruptions.
●     Per the CDC and ACHD, students who are masked and would otherwise be considered a “close contact” do not need to be quarantined if within 3’ - 6’ of a COVID-19 positive individual.
 
Expanded Rationale:
●     Aligns with updated guidance of the CDC, AAP, PADOH, PDE and ACHD;
●     Locally reinforced by the shift in Allegheny County conditions from low transmission levels in early July to current level of substantial transmission (i.e., significant change in conditions and guidance within the past month);
●     Reflects understanding of the Delta variant and risk of transmission among vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals with acknowledgement that a vaccine is not yet available for children age 11 and under;
●     Aligns with the recommendation of Dr. Bogen (ACHD Director) and the Healthcare Leadership Council subject-matter experts;
●     Protects continuity of learning against contact tracing and quarantine at a time when school districts in the country that already started the 2021 - 2022 school year have experienced disruptions due to cases and quarantine;
●     Protects the adult population of the school and minimizes the potential need for substitutes;
●     Survey results from parents indicate that 76% of parents were “planning to or willing to” have their child wear a mask in school and 62% are influenced by the level of transmission;
●     Survey results from staff indicate that 87% were “planning to or willing to” wear a mask in school and 68% are influenced by the level of transmission;
 
Other Considerations:
●     Full and regular in-person school attendance is an extremely positive step toward normalcy.
●     We understand frustration and fatigue especially after a summer largely without masks and the lowest levels of transmission.
●     We do not want politics and controversy to interfere with re-establishing a positive culture within the school that is focused on learning. We do not want the school building itself to become a battleground for this highly politicized topic.
●     While direct risk of hospitalization and death for children is low, the reality of disruption due to cases, contact tracing and quarantine is high.
●     Cloth masks were effectively used in the 2020 - 2021 school year for most students and staff. In rare cases, a face shield was used. Even more rarely, we had a small number of exemptions (i.e., approximately 30 students across all six schools).
●     A process will be shared so that parents can submit a written request from a medical professional to address individual concerns (i.e., if wearing a face covering would either cause a medical condition, or exacerbate an existing one, including respiratory issues that impede breathing, a mental health condition or a disability).
●     To start the year, we sincerely hope that the initial masking requirement can be met with limited exceptions so that the students can experience in-person learning and continuity. 
 
Consideration to Modify Masking Requirement:
●     The recommendation for required masking is intended for the start of the year.
●     As conditions and/or guidance change, we believe it may become possible to adjust the masking requirement. For example, it is possible that decision-points for “required versus optional” are aligned to levels of transmission (i.e., low, moderate, substantial and high). It is also possible that levels of transmission could vary by K - 6 versus 7 - 12 due to the availability of a vaccine (i.e., age 11 and under).
 
Other Mitigation Measures:
●     Home Health Screening (continued encouragement of staying home when ill; we are not planning to use the Sapphire-based form)
●     Buses (windows open; masking required; increased ridership; seating charts; parental help if possible)
●     Classrooms (desks in columns and rows to maximize physical distancing without impacting the educational program; desks facing forward; teacher zone encouraged; availability of sanitizer; seating charts for contact tracing)
●     Ventilation (continued practices with HVAC and increased air intake)
●     Building Cleaning (modified custodial schedules; availability of cleaner in classrooms)
●     Cafeteria (physical distancing to the extent possible; use of alternate spaces; some adjustments to service; no salad bars; no shared serving utensils)
●     Visitors and Volunteers (limited during the school day; masking required)
●     Locker Rooms (Limited use; masking required)
●     Shared Materials (availability of cleaners and sanitizing wipes)
●     Athletics/Activities (masking required indoors other than active competition; masking outdoors optional with focus on physical distancing; limited use of locker rooms)
●     Recess (some modification of activities; optional masking outdoors)
●     Return-to-School (flowchart will be developed for isolation, quarantine, travel, etc.)
●     Vaccination status (encourage parents and staff to share with the school nurse)
 
The next meeting of the Pine-Richland School Board is Monday, August 16, 2021, at 7:00 p.m. in the Pine-Richland High School Auditorium. The Health and Safety Plan will be on the agenda for board action.
 
Sincerely,
Pine-Richland School District