The Littlestown Area School District (LASD) school board approved the district’s state-required Health and Safety Plan on an 8 to 1 vote on Monday evening. The plan makes face coverings optional.
Board member Brian Lawyer voted against the plan, saying he didn’t approve of the mask policy.
The vote came after district superintendent Chris Bigger made a detailed explanation of his reasoning about the policies.
Bigger first reminded the board of the “common ground” the district followed in 2020-21, including keeping students in school with face-to-face instruction, protecting the most vulnerable populations, implementing reasonable safety measures based on local data, and being consistent.
“We knew that if we were consistent throughout the year, in the long run that would really help us with families, students, and staff,” he said. Bigger said each of the district’s schools was closed only once last year.
Bigger said he based his presentation on data, particularly those from the Pennsylvania COVID Dashboard, which he said provides a very sophisticated data tracker. “I love data,” he said.
According to Bigger’s report:
- Fourteen percent of people in the LASD zip code have already had COVID and there have been about 100 cases in the district. “The more cases we had in the area, the more impact there was on the school,” he said.
- Between 40 and 49 percent of eligible people had been vaccinated in the county but that this rate was substantially higher in those over 65 years of age and substantially lower in younger people.
- Adams County Coroner Pat Felix reported that almost all COVID-related deaths in the county were in older populations and that there had been few in the younger age ranges.
- The American Association of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control recommended face coverings and 3-foot distance spacing, but that they also noted the importance of in-person learning, regardless of whether all the prevention strategies could be implemented at the school.
- There was little evidence that children under 10 years transmitted COVID but that children over 10 were just as likely as people of other ages to transmit it.
- The district did experience COVID transmission among students last year, particularly on athletic teams.
Bigger created an analysis matrix that brought a number of sources of information together that would help the district making decisions.
Explaining the matrix, Bigger said he was concerned about the low vaccination rate in the county coupled with the substantial community spread of COVID, but that other aspects, such as the county’s low death rates and a low population density, worked in the district’s favor.
Based on these data, Bigger proposed a health and safety plan stating that for all schools on day one of the first semester on August 19, 2021, there will be no physical distancing requirements and no face coverings required but that there could be an increase in mitigation measures as needed based on local data and conditions.
The proposed policies include:
- A minimum of weekly fogging schedule and increased air circulation, a focus on hygiene practices in all schools, a persistent effort to keep children home when sick, and continued monitoring local data, particularly in December.
- A no tolerance policy for bullying due to wearing face coverings. “For everyone’s mental well-being, we expect courteous understanding to students and families,” Bigger said. “We don’t want choice to turn into a problem.”
- Quarantines and contact tracing will continue in some manner, and limited use of live streaming classes for quarantine and prolonged health related absences will be available.
- If absences would increase to greater than 30%, the administration and school board would then consider increased mitigation strategies similar to those that were used in the 2020-21 school year.
- The superintendent will come to the board if and when changes need to be made.
- The district would more aggressively suggest vaccination and potentially require face coverings if the number of absences and quarantines made in-person learning impossible.
Bigger said vaccinations are encouraged: “We would recommend eligible individuals get vaccinated.”
Students must stay home when they are sick. “Parents don’t like that, but they have to,” said Bigger.