As schools reopen, Omicron presents significant challenges

As schools reopen, Omicron presents significant challenges
Posted on 01/03/2022

Good afternoon!

Many of you are wondering what to expect over the next few weeks regarding our response, expectations and capabilities due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the COVID virus.  Our objective is to keep as many students in schools and learning as possible. We anticipate the School Board to update the current Health & Safety Plan to relax (similar to what the CDC has now changed to) the amount of days in isolation of a positive COVID individual from 10 to 5 days, and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others to minimize the risk of infecting people they encounter.  We will implement this change effective immediately.  We expect the rapid rise in positive COVID cases to continue through most of January.

The greatest challenge we face in accomplishing our objective of keeping students in school and learning will be ensuring that we have enough adults to safely open our schools and safely teach our students.  The initial end of the holiday reports that we are receiving from principals and Levy Bus Company indicate that we should expect staffing shortages.  The impact of staffing shortages ranges from not being able to transport students to school, not having coverage for our schools’ front offices, to not having enough teachers and substitute teachers available to open our schools safely.  This will be a 24/7 staffing management challenge for the administrative teams across the district for at least the next few weeks.
If you recall last year, we had a Yellow Alert warning system that helped us alert you that a school might be virtual - synchronous or asynchronous, the next day due to staffing shortfalls.  As I shared with you before, with the advent of COVID, principals and I study our projected absence reports every evening - three reports come in before midnight and another three reports come in early the next morning.  If a principal, an assistant superintendent, or I recognizes a potential teacher shortage the next day after reviewing substitute teacher and coverage availability, we start chatting.

If it appears that a virtual day may be necessary in a particular school, the principal will send a Yellow Alert message via email, text, and phone alerting their parents, staff, and faculty that schools that next day might be virtual.  In turn, the next morning after reviewing the first absence report, if there are insufficient staff members available to open schools safely, a follow up message will be sent out informing the school community that the school[s] will be closed for in-person instruction and will be a virtual learning day from home instead.
As a quick snapshot behind the curtain right now. While we haven't received Tuesday’s professional staff absence report, we already know that numerous bus drivers are out due to COVID and other illnesses, and that numerous routes will be canceled.  Please plan for these types of possibilities throughout this month.

Virtual learning opportunities for the rest of the school year.  We are in negotiations with our professional staff association QCEA for what virtual learning will look like when either students or teachers are out for COVID-related reasons.  We hope to have the negotiations wrapped up shortly.  Our objective is to keep learning opportunities going through virtual means to support this challenge when either students or teachers are out for COVID-related reasons.  The only virtual option we have right now is QFlex, but it is not taking new enrollments.

 Mitigating strategies.  Masking will continue to remain optional.  However, with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, masking is highly encouraged for all.  The majority of our students and faculties remained masked last month, after the Supreme Court's ruling.  We hope that continues.  As the Bucks County Health Director Dr. David Damsker said right before the Holiday, the most effective way to protect yourself and your children is through vaccination.  This is an important choice that parents have for themselves and their children.  Again, to keep more students, staff and faculty in school, we will implement a relaxed quarantine guidance for isolation time for those who are COVID positive, and keep contact tracing to a minimum.


 Thank you for reading.


 Bill Harner


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