School districts in the Delaware Valley are responding to the new CDC guidelines stating that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing.
Despite the new guidelines, the Pottsgrove School District announced that students and staff are required to continue wearing masks through the end of the school year. After Montgomery County school superintendents met with the Montgomery County Department of Health, Pottsgrove Superintendent William Shirkis said the district will follow guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Education that schools should continue to follow their current mitigation measures. Exceptions to mask-wearing for students are during outdoor recess and physical activities in outdoor physical education classes. Athletes are also exempt when actively engaging in physical activity during PIAA athletic practices and competitions. The rationale behind Shirikis’ determination was that most K-12 students have not yet been vaccinated yet.
As of May 15, 47.8 percent of Pennsylvanians ages 18 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Adolescents ages 12-15 are now also eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine in Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, the School District of Haverford Township announced students will not be required to wear masks when engaging in athletics, exercise, or play activities outdoors per guidance from the Chester County Health Department. The requirement for six feet of distance while eating lunch remains the same. The letter signed by Superintendent Maureen Reusche and Nicole Battestelli, the pandemic coordinator and director of pupil services & special education, stated that students 16-18 years of age would receive their second dose of vaccines at Radnor High School and that a vaccine clinic for 12 to 15-year-olds would be held May 17. Pfizer vaccines were also available for 12 to 15-year-olds at Springfield Hospital from May 13 to May 14 in Delaware County.
In Chester County, the West Chester Area School District is likewise continuing to follow guidance from the Chester County Department of Health and is awaiting updates on how the CDC guidelines will impact schools, as well as contact tracing. In a letter to the community, Superintendent Jim Scanlon clarified district guidelines regarding mask-wearing, which include that staff and students are no longer required to wear masks outside when engaging in high exertion outdoor activities. The letter also stated that a decision on mask-wearing at high school commencement ceremonies will be made in the coming weeks and that teachers are no longer required to disinfect desks and tables in between classes.
Robert Rizo, acting superintendent of the Spring-Ford Area School District, issued an announcement saying that depending on individual comfort levels, students are also permitted to remove their masks while participating in outdoor after-school activities such as athletics and band. He also urged parents to speak with their children, provided tips on how to foster conversations around family decisions and how to encourage children to be supportive of the choices their peers make.
In the message, Rizzo condemned any possible ostracizing of fellow students based on mask-wearing decisions.
“No matter what choice is best for your child, please remind them that it is never OK to make fun of or question someone for choosing to or not to wear a mask,” Rizzo wrote.
Officials at Pennridge in Bucks County has not made any changes to their school guidelines and don’t anticipate that mask-wearing expectations will change by the end of the school year, according to Superintendent David Bolton.
“As a result of consultations with state representatives, Bucks County Superintendents, and the Bucks County Department of Health, Pennridge will not be adjusting our mask expectations for fully vaccinated individuals at this time,” Bolton wrote in a statement.
The Pennsbury School District is also following this approach stating that the Pennsbury School District’s Health and Safety Plan “continues to call for student and staff masking and social distancing as much as possible,” according to Ann Langtry, the supervisor of communication strategies for the district.
As of May 21, Bucks County has 52,584 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 522,293 vaccines administered, including both partial and complete administration, according to the Pa. Department of Health.
With changing guidelines, school officials are making an effort to keep students and staff safe while navigating a possible post-pandemic education system.