12/4 Message from Dr. Gerhard regarding return to in-person learning

Melissa Fullerton
By Melissa Fullerton December 4, 2020 11:41

Hello Governor Mifflin families,

I hope this email finds you and your family well. I preface this message by saying there is a lot of information to digest, but we want to continue to keep you informed of our ongoing decision-making process throughout this pandemic and as we navigate some new requirements and ongoing challenges. First and foremost, we will be returning to in-person instruction, as planned, on Monday, December 7. This period of intermittent virtual learning following the planned November break was a proactive measure intended to provide some additional time for quarantine periods to end to ensure that we can staff our buildings appropriately for in-person learning. 

Since November 18, 43 students and six staff members had to be quarantined as a result of potential close contact with a positive COVID-19 case at school. In addition, 55 staff members and 125 students have been issued quarantine orders or notices to remain off campus due to potential COVID-19 exposure outside of school (personal contacts, risk within the home, etc…).

As we prepare to return Monday, at this time, we anticipate that at least 12 staff members districtwide will be unable to return due to quarantine. We are confident that we can staff our buildings appropriately to reopen on Monday. However, moving forward we believe that our greatest challenge will be the ability to maintain staffing, primarily due to quarantining requirements. While our teachers have been gracious in their willingness to continue to teach from home while quarantined, we must still have the staff in place to physically be present in a classroom even if a teacher is teaching remotely. 

The other important factor that we must now consider are the new requirements issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Previously, the DOH had provided recommendations and guidelines for schools based on community transmission within counties. Newly issued requirements for intermittent school closure are mandated based on the number of positive COVID-19 cases at a school within a 14 day rolling window and in relation to the size of the school building population. Our district, as well as 99 percent of districts across the state, signed the attestation form to comply with these new requirements. Had we not signed this agreement, we would have been required to go fully virtual by December 1. 

By signing the form, we as a district attested to the following:

Our students and staff have been diligent in wearing masks while in school. Under these new requirements, masks must be worn at all times during the school day, both indoors and outside. Face shields should be considered a last resort. And our winter athletes will be required to wear masks to participate in practice and competitions.

As far as the new requirements for closure, I can tell you that to date, none of our schools would have been required to close based upon this new matrix. However, as we continue to see cases rise within our community, there is an increased probability of intermittent closure of our schools if we continue to see more positive cases among our students and staff, regardless of where they were exposed to COVID-19.

The new mandates for closure impact our specific school buildings differently, based on size:

Brecknock, Cumru, and Mifflin Park  Elementary Schools
(less than 500 students attending in-person)

If we have 2-4 confirmed COVID-19 cases within a rolling 14 day window at an individual school, we would need to close for 3-7 days.

Governor Mifflin Intermediate and Governor Mifflin Middle Schools
(500-900 students attending in-person)

If we have 4-6 confirmed COVID-19 cases within a rolling 14 day window at an individual school, we would need to close for 3-7 days.

Governor Mifflin High School
(900+ students attending in-person)

If we have 6-10 confirmed COVID-19 cases within a rolling 14 day window at an individual school, we would need to close for 3-7 days.

This new information from the PA Department of Health does include a provision that the closure period can be lessened if we are able to complete our contact tracing and deep cleaning procedures within a shorter period of time. In the summer, we had a team of staff members complete the required contact tracing training. Additionally, our custodial team has been well equipped and prepared. We have been able to provide a rapid response to positive cases since August and we will continue to do so. 

It is important to point out that all of the information above is an increased emphasis placed on mitigation efforts, which we have prioritized since opening and will continue to prioritize moving forward. What should also be noted is that over the past few weeks, we have heard from the CDC, the PA Department of Health and the PA Department of Education, as well as a number of other expert sources, that the collective goal should be to keep schools open safely. The safety measures are in the prevention, not the response. And therefore, we should put our efforts into doing our part to prevent the spread. 

While this is a considerable amount of information, the action items for our students, staff and families are few:

  1. Please continue to follow the guidance of our Health and Safety Plan.This has been updated regularly and should be considered our primary operating manual for this year. Complete daily health screenings. Stay home if you’re not feeling well. And report any potential COVID-19 exposure to our confidential hotline 610-775-1461 x. 1113.
  2. Make a plan for intermittent school closure. In the event that we would need to close school for a period of time, be prepared. We will share this information as early as possible and move to remote learning immediately. Our staff will continue to prepare students, especially our elementary students, for the possibility of remote learning. Please make sure your child is ready.
  3. Protect yourself and your community. The positive COVID-19 cases we have seen are not due to transmission within school. We must take the steps to reduce our risk of exposure in our community. Wear a mask. Practice physical distancing. And make choices to avoid gatherings and social activities that increase your risk of exposure.

We have always known that the winter would likely be a challenging time in this pandemic. Now is our time to show that we are prepared to meet this challenge by taking the precautions to protect ourselves and those around us. We remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a safe place for your children to learn. Please match that commitment by helping mitigate the spread of this virus in our community.

Sincerely,

Dr. Steve Gerhard
Superintendent 
Governor Mifflin School District 

Melissa Fullerton
By Melissa Fullerton December 4, 2020 11:41