Dear Parents/Guardians and Students,
We need to update you on three significant areas, all related to Health and Safety plans. Please read over the information below for changes and clarifications taking place at school.
Masking: Yesterday, Governor Wolf and other state leaders from the PA Department of Health and PA Department of Education issued an order that requires all students, staff, and visitors across the state to wear masks while inside school facilities beginning on Tuesday, September 7, 2021, and until further notice. Click here to see the full order.
The Department of Education believes the mask mandate “will help maximize the chances for regular school operations and minimize student and staff quarantines as the school year gets underway.” Over the first seven days of school at Shenango, we have had a handful of positive cases in each building and have experienced a high number of students who needed to be quarantined. At the moment I write this, we have four positive high school and four positive elementary school cases. Unfortunately, those cases and others in the community have resulted in the district having over 125 students and staff members in isolation/quarantine in less than two weeks of school. This level of extended absenteeism is very challenging for the students involved, families caring for them at home, and teachers attempting to consistently deliver meaningful instruction to students both in-person and temporarily remote.
One positive that will come from this mask mandate and the further implementation of our elevated Health and Safety plan is that the number of students needing to be quarantined will be drastically reduced moving forward. When unmasked, we have to quarantine students within six feet of a positive individual. Once fully masked, we will only have to quarantine students within three feet of a positive individual. While this sounds like a small change, in almost all classroom settings, students are seated 3 ft apart, but rarely 6 ft apart this year. Therefore, we anticipate far fewer educational disruptions as we move forward with students consistently staying in school with a much lower risk/rate of quarantine.
In preparation for the September 7th Order, we encourage you to secure either cloth or disposable masks for your students over the next few days. Like last year, the district will provide a mask if your child forgets to bring one to school. Face coverings will not be required outdoors or during physical activity and athletics. The order does allow for the use of face shields if a student is not able to wear a mask. There are also a handful of exceptions for masking that are outlined in the state order. Any student seeking the exception to masking will need to provide the necessary medical documentation. We anticipate the Department of Health will update school districts by October 1st if the mask mandate will continue.
Low Chance of School Closures: All of the guidance and orders we are receiving from the CDC, PA Department of Health, and the PA Department of Education all paint a clear picture that they want schools to remain open and want as many students educated In-Person as possible. When we last approved a Health and Safety Plan, it indicated that the schools would consider a shift to Remote Learning school-wide when positive cases reached approximately 6 cases in a 14-day window. After that was approved and published by the district, the PA Department of Health released revised guidance that drastically lowered the likelihood of either school needing to close for Remote Learning. There are now two reasons we would consider closing the school and returning to Remote Instruction:
- If 5% of the school staff and students are positive for COVID-19. This would mean around 25 or more positive cases in building in a two-week period. As mentioned earlier, each school currently sits at 4 cases.
- If we have three or more separate instances of COVID spreading from one individual to another at school (called an “outbreak” at school. We currently have zero cases of school-based close contacts testing positive after exposure at school.
I believe it is safe to say that it is highly doubtful either school would close and return to Remote Learning, short of a significant outbreak unlike anything we have seen in the last 18 months.
Elevating Health and Safety Plan Measures: Our approved Health and Safety plan calls for increased mitigation efforts as the county transmission levels rise above 100 cases per 100k for consecutive weeks on the PA Early Warning Dashboard, which we anticipate will happen at the end of this week. As a result, our students will likely see some differences returning from this holiday weekend in addition to masking. Changes could look like seating changes in classes, cafeteria procedures, etc. The most important item among these precautions is keeping your child home when sick. Please refrain from sending a symptomatic student to school unless the symptoms have already been attributed to another non-contagious illness by a physician.
We thank you in advance for your cooperation in helping keep our students in school. Our goal is to keep our students healthy, attending school in person, and enjoying all of the programs we have to offer. There is a FAQ available for additional information.