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Here in the United States, there is no national plan to open our schools safely during this unprecedented pandemic. As the result, individual school districts across the country are being forced to create their own plans to protect children from becoming infected with the coronavirus while confined within the same school building.

As August approaches, many school districts are preparing their guidelines and policies intended to protect their students from contracting and spreading the virus. As we learn more about the proposals being weighed by other school districts it becomes clear that some school districts intend to take greater precautions than others.

The proposals set forward by school districts in Pennsylvania are not consistent and differ in fundamental ways. The greatest difference appears to be in the choice to either resume a five day week with all students attending in-person instruction or a hybrid plan, combining in-person and online instruction. The advantage of the hybrid plan is that the time a student spends in the school building can be staggered allowing not only fewer children in the building at any one time but also fewer students in classrooms increasing social distancing. Although, there are other important ways in which school opening plans differ. Some school districts are doing temperature checks using either a no-touch thermometer or thermal camera before students and staff enter the building. The wearing of a mask has been mandated by Governor Wolf therefore at least that specific policy appears to be consistent.

The school districts in our area that propose some form of a hybrid plan include, Cumberland Valley, Susquehanna Township, and Lancaster School Districts.

In the case of Cumberland Valley School District they are proposing the following guidelines for opening:

  • Kindergarten through fifth-grade students will go to school five days a week.
  • Middle and high school students will be split into two groups. Each group will have two days in school and three days of online instruction.
  • All in-person classes will be capped at 20 students.
  • The school district says families can choose to have their students learn online.
  • It also says buses will run at half capacity and students and staff will be pre-screened each day before entering school buildings.

Susquehanna Township School District has proposed their own version of a hybrid plan:

  • Students and staff would attend class in-person Monday through Thursday.
  • Friday would be a remote learning day, when the school buildings would be thoroughly cleaned.
  • Wearing a mask would be required in school and on the bus, and seats and desks would be socially distanced.
  • For those not comfortable with returning to in-person classes, a hybrid option will be offered allowing students to participate in livestreaming classes online.
  • The district will offer an entirely virtual option through the HANNA Cyber Academy.
  • Cyber students would have virtual learning Monday through Friday with instruction at their own paces.

Lancaster School District has also proposed their own variation of the hybrid plan:

  • Elementary school students will be in school for four half-days per week – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. There will be morning and afternoon sessions.
  • Middle school and high school students will have similar schedules. They will each attend in-person two days per week, either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday.
  • Middle school teachers will rotate classrooms. High school will work on a staggered bell schedule.
  • All buildings will be closed Wednesdays for cleaning.
  • All students will have at least 10 hours of at-home learning per week.

School Districts here in Lebanon County, including Cornwall Lebanon, ELCO, Northern Lebanon, and Lebanon have publicly announced their support for in-person instruction rather than a hybrid plan. Their joint guidelines for reopening plans are as follows:

  • Symptom screening of children will be conducted by all parents/guardians at home each morning before the school day. No children with symptoms shall be sent on a bus or brought to school;
  • All district staff will perform a symptom screen on themselves prior to leaving for work, and will stay home if ill;
  • Temperature screening will not be required upon entrance to school for students or staff;
  • Students and staff will consistently be made aware of the signs and symptoms of COVID-19;
  • Students and staff will go to the nurse immediately if feeling symptomatic;
  • As per the order of July 1, 2020, from the Department of Health, face coverings are required of students with certain specific exemptions when social distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Social distancing, to the maximum extent possible, will be used in all learning spaces;
  • All high-touch surfaces will be cleaned regularly, including water filling stations, door handles, light switches, and student desks. Students and staff will be encouraged to utilize individual water bottles from home;
  • All individuals in school will sanitize or wash their hands on a frequent basis. Hand sanitizer will be made available in all common areas, hallways, and/or in classrooms where sinks for handwashing are not available;
  • Classrooms and common areas will be ventilated with additional circulation of outdoor air when possible;
  • High-traffic hallway use will be limited, when feasible; and
  • In cafeterias, seating arrangements will be reviewed to avoid overcrowding at tables. Individuals will be required to sanitize or wash their hands prior to, and after, eating.

It is important to note that these are proposals and in most cases have yet to be approved by the local school boards in each of these school districts. Because these are proposals and not yet approved by their local school boards they are subject to change.

The fact that school reopening plans lack consistency and vary greatly from one school district to another is causing both concern and anxiety among parents and teachers. Ultimately, parents must decide if their school district’s plan is sufficient to protect their child.

Robert Griffiths is a former educator and a current educational consultant and Cornwall-Lebanon School District board member. He lives in South Lebanon.

Read previous columns from Robert Griffiths on returning to school

Read all of LebTown’s COVID-19 coverage here.

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