This update provides important information regarding Solanco’s COVID response and prevention plan.
On Tuesday, August 31, the 2nd day of school for us, the Pennsylvania Department of Health issued an order requiring all students, teachers, and staff to wear masks when indoors effective Tuesday, September 7, the day after Labor Day.
Did Solanco make this decision?
No. The Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of Health, Alison V. Beam, issued this order.
What Will School Look Like Next Week?
Exactly like it does this week, but masks are required. Mask exceptions are the same as last year and will be handled through Solanco’s Office of Special Education.
What About Local Control?
Solanco advocated for and embraced local control as an essential component to respond to COVID this year. We had repeatedly been informed that COVID response plans would be a local decision. To this end, we formed multiple engagement groups over the summer, received a lot of feedback, and debated what we believed would be the best plan for our students and parents to start this school year.
The result was our current Solanco reopening plan for schools. This was a locally-developed plan generally reflective of local wishes, although we acknowledge that some are conflicted about this plan.
Our plan started the year with layered strategies that also included a mask-optional approach. True, requiring masks may have eventually been an option for us to consider if case numbers and information warranted, but even then, that would be a local decision debated and decided in Solanco.
Our plan was to start with specific measures in place and adjust as conditions changed. Solanco schools opened this past Monday with a mask-optional approach, and I am sure many of your children have talked about how refreshingly different school feels this year compared to last year.
We are disappointed this decision is not a local one.
You have no doubt seen how contentious this issue is nationwide, and there is no shortage of videos of out-of-control public meetings, confrontations in public spaces, and battles among some politicians across the country.
However, if you have participated in our Solanco engagement groups, reviewed our communications, or attended/watched school board meetings, hopefully you will have seen thoughtful, challenging, and productive debates among local stakeholders.
You will have seen school board members wrestling with these difficult decisions.
The rancor we have seen outside of Solanco is different than the thoughtful and productive dialogue we have had locally. It is clear all care about children and want the best for them. It is true that opinions vary on what this means, but all of this debate is borne out of care and concern for children.
But parents and schools are in a tough space currently. Many are upset and frustrated at the actual COVID protocols. Many are upset that local control has been diminished. Most are weary from it all.
At Solanco, we commit to open and direct communication, thoughtful deliberation, respectful disagreement at times, and developing solutions that everyone can get behind.
Right now, the public debate on this is framed as winners and losers, either-or, and the dialogue has the potential to diminish with this latest order.
Right now, we are struggling to find a path, a place of unity.
What Is the Status of COVID in Solanco Schools?
The first week of school at Solanco brought some disappointing numbers. Solanco High School currently has 2 cases and 45 students quarantining after just 3 days of school.
Despite disagreement about masks and social distancing, most would agree that quarantines are very difficult for families and students: they impact a child’s learning and present child-care challenges to parents.
It is likely that, if these numbers persist, Solanco will have to consider increasing social distance. But our plan accounted for that. Increasing social distance, implementing cohorting, and masking reduce the number of quarantines required as determined by contact tracing. The fact that many students are unmasked and social distance is reduced clearly increased the number of students quarantined compared to last year.
It is likely that if we adopted last year’s “stricter” plan to start, we would not have any quarantines at the moment.
Solanco’s plan has attempted to balance the needs for a more typical classroom environment and the potential of quarantines and even closures.
But, as stated earlier, the Solanco School Board wanted this to be a local decision, one developed locally. We are disappointed local control was diminished by this decision. We believed local decisions would be most responsive to our community even if there is disagreement and debate at the local level.
We continue to monitor and address COVID cases in our schools. Solanco has created a “COVID Dashboard” to provide parents with information regarding cases and quarantines per school building. The dashboard can be accessed here: https://datastudio.google.com/embed/u/0/reporting/1e45f9bc-734f-44c2-abf5-c714b66f3a23/page/stWfB
Didn’t the Solanco School Board Have to Vote If Universal Masking Was to be Required?
This order supersedes Solanco’s own Health and Safety Plan. The Pennsylvania Department of Education states, “Regardless of whether the Acting Secretary’s August 31, 2021 Order is reflected in a school entity’s Health and Safety Plan, all school entities must comply with and enforce the Order.”
What If I Send My Child To School Without a Mask?
Teachers and principals need your help. Working together to make sure school runs smoothly is essential. Solanco will provide masks for any child who does not have one. Please note we work to make sure students have an orderly educational environment, and we ask that parents encourage their children to adhere to this so we can focus our efforts on providing a great learning environment. We will implement frequent masks breaks, find ways to increase outside time for students, and keep students focused on learning.
How Will You Enforce This?
We will offer reminders to students who forget and provide masks for students without them. We understand most parents do not want the school to be forceful with this, and we have to balance honoring these wishes with maintaining an orderly school environment. We ask that parents talk to their children about mask-wearing and the importance of having a disruption-free school environment.
We will have to address students who refuse to wear masks, but hopefully this will not happen.
If I Disagree with This, What Are My Options?
We recognize how strongly felt opinions are about masking in schools. Some parents have stated that they plan to withdraw their children from Solanco if a masking requirement is implemented. While we certainly encourage parents to continue to send their children to in-person school at Solanco while wearing a mask, we understand some will wish to find alternative schooling as a result of this order. Some have asked what options are available.
There are a number of options for parents to satisfy compulsory attendance requirements:
Solanco Virtual Academy (SVA)
Solanco’s virtual school where students remain enrolled as Solanco students. This is an entirely online, asynchronous program. Many Solanco parents selected this option last year. For information on SVA, contact your child’s building principal or click here: https://www.solancosd.org/schools/solanco-virtual-academy/
Homeschooling is an option for parents provided certain conditions are met. For more information about homeschooling and what is required, please refer to Solanco’s website or click here: https://www.solancosd.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Required-Documentation-for-Home-Education-Program-with-Affidavit.pdf
Private/parochial schools have always been an option for parents. Arrangements for attendance at private schools would be made between individual parents and the private schools themselves.
Non-Solanco Cyber/Charter Schools
Parents can enroll their children in non-Solanco cyber-charters—arrangements for this would need to be made between individual parents and the cyber/charter schools themselves.
What About Flex?
Solanco is not offering Flex as an option this year. Last year, it was an option for parents to select, and teachers prepared every day for both in-person and remote learners.
This year, teachers are preparing for in-person learning exclusively and not preparing separate lessons every day for remote learning. However, if we have school or classroom shutdowns, we can pivot to remote learning for short periods of time. Pivoting to remote learning for short periods of time is not the same as offering Flex every day.
For individual students who have to quarantine or isolate, arrangements for instructional activities while home will be made by individual teachers.
Is Solanco Advocating for Solanco/Is Solanco Pushing Back on This?
The Solanco School Board will do its due diligence to determine if local control can be increased in this matter.
However, unless a court issues an injunction against the Secretary of Health regarding the implementation and enforcement of the Secretary’s mask order, Solanco is obligated to comply with the provisions of that order.
The Solanco School Board will continue to consult legal counsel regarding any available options that can be explored or taken.
We will continue to advocate for increased local control at the legislative level.
We have seen over and over again how supportive, strong, and caring the Solanco Community can be. We believe that despite any differences, we will arrive at a thoughtful position after debate and consideration.
We ask for all to work together to support the most disruption-free and safest school environment possible, even if disagreements persist.
Thank you for your support.