Monday evening school board meetings resulted in three different outcomes to the question of reopening school in the coming weeks. Penn-Delco returned to a hybrid opening, Wallingford Swarthmore voted to go all virtual until Oct. 2 to start to the school year and Garnet Valley is delaying a decision one week.
Wallingford-Swarthmore had two speakers to provide guidance on reopening. Dr. P.J. Brennan, chief medical officer and senior vice president of the University of Pennsylvania Health Systems, board certified in Infectious Disease and Internal Medicine, and Dr. David Rubin, director of PolicyLab of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, addressed concerns.
The two doctors urged the school board to be cautious in opening and pointed to to a number of factors including the test positivity rate in the county, the travel season which has caused increased infections and coming Labor Day holiday which could contribute to that. They also noted time time needed to reopen schools and challenges of dealing with at risk children in a virtual setting.
Buying time to have a better understanding where Delco would be after school opens, they said.
“It would be prudent to move the start of in-person education to a point later in September towards the end of the month or even Oct. 1,” said Brennan, who noted while COVID test positivity rates had fallen in the past week to 6.5 percent, it is still high.
“We’ve learned this virus likes to spread in gatherings, and close crowded spaces,” said Rubin. He used the examples of high-risk patients in nursing homes, meat-packing and poultry farms as well as vacationers and travelers over the summer.
“When you look to the fall and ask yourself, where is the risk that hasn’t been seen yet, it’s universities and schools. We learned over the summer that symptomatic and some pre-symptomatic children can spread the virus," he said,
He pointed to an outbreak in Israel when they reopened schools and what he called a "farce" in Gwinnett County, Ga., where an outbreak forced the district to close back down.
After receiving new information from the state departments of Health and Education Monday morning the Garnet Valley School District decided to delay its vote on a virtual reopening of schools until next Monday evening.
Meanwhile at Penn-Delco, Superintendent Dr. George Steinhoff said the new guidelines released by the state indicate the district could reopen with a hybrid model.
He noted data will be monitored weekly and recommendations can change should spikes in infection and spread.
Tuesday evening the Radnor School board also invited Brennan and Rubin to speak and they repeated much of what they said at the Wallingford Swarthmore School Board meeting.
More than 40 residents commented offered a number of points to the board with their comments read by district communications officer Michael Petitti.
Radnor’s board unanimously approved a change to its health and safety plan that will require students to keep masks on while seated at desks 6 feet apart or greater.
There were a number of questions about the quality of face masks, gator and bandanna types masks have been question following a Duke University study. Health officials have also noted the importance of students having mask breaks.
Board member Andrew Babson made a motion to go all virtual and he said his goal was for kids to be safe. Another board member made a motion to postpone that discussion until the next meeting Tuesday, Aug. 18., to discuss the plan. It passed 6-3.