Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) recently published guidance for schools to consider when reopening in the fall.

These guidelines, which were released on May 19 (CDC) and June 3 (PDE), suggest ways that districts can reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in their schools and protect the safety of students, staff, and their families. 

Contrary to some misinformation that was spread on social media, schools will not be required to follow these guidelines but are encouraged to do what is “feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of the community” for each school.

Most of these strategies involve encouraging or mandating students and staff to follow the guidelines the CDC set for everyone, such as proper hand-washing, staying home when sick or coming in contact with someone who is sick, covering coughs and sneezes, and limiting physical contact with others. 

However, some strategies, such as requiring students to wear masks or remaining six feet apart, will be challenging to implement, according to Cornwall-Lebanon School District superintendent Dr. Phillip Domencic.

“I think it would very difficult to enforce [mask-wearing],” he said. “I think that could be very challenging in a school environment, especially given the age of students.”

Domencic also does not think that any classroom in CLSD would be able to accommodate keeping students six or more feet apart, in accordance with CDC guidelines. However, he does think there are other ways, such as utilizing desk layouts and increasing cleaning protocols in large-congregation areas, to decrease the risk of students contracting or spreading COVID-19.

“My thoughts are that there are certainly going to be challenges as we try to return to school,” said Domencic. “However, we also know that, in our communication with students, parents, families and our communities, we need to return to school. 

“We need to figure out a way to do this.”

CLSD is currently in the early stages of planning for the 2020-2021 school year because, like most other school districts, they only recently completed the 2019-2020 school year.

“Everything that we’re talking about here, this is in the pre-development stage,” said Domencic. “All school districts are just developing these things now. These things … are not set in stone yet, by any means.”

CLSD is continually referring to CDC and PDE guidelines as they plan for what the fall will look like for schools in the district. 

“We have reviewed [the guidelines] and we are continuing to do so,” said Domencic. “We really have to devote our time and energy [to] making sure that our high-risk populations are protected as great as possible and really focusing in and honing in on that.

“There are a lot of things to consider for what the fall will be.”

In addition to the safety of their students and staff, CLSD will also take into consideration the effects their efforts to slow the COVID-19 spread will have on the sense of community within the district.

“While we absolutely need to do things to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we also have to make sure that our school environments have a healthy school culture and that sense of community so that we can continue our mission of how we make learning productive for our students,” said Domencic. “We have to make sure that the same things we are doing don’t eliminate our ability to do what we do. 

“That’s going to be one of the big considerations we’re going to have to have with all of our plans.”

Throughout the decision-making process, CLSD also plans to get input from parents. They recently conducted a survey with parents in the district and, while the responses are still being reviewed, the vast majority of parents who responded were in favor of sending their children back to school this fall.

As of now, CLSD plans on welcoming their student and staff back to school on Aug. 31 if it is safe for them to do so.

“Our commitment to returning to school is because we believe that this is the best way that we can take care of our students and our community,” said Domencic. “I commend everyone, our students, our parents, our teachers, everybody that rose to the occasion of this challenge that we had over the past few months. 

“It was difficult, we know, for everybody. But we also have committed to getting back to our schedules and our regular routines because it’s the best way we can serve our students and our community.”

Note: LebTown reached out to several school districts in Lebanon County for this article, but was only able to secure comment from CLSD. Watch for additional coverage on this topic in the near future.

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