On Friday, the Chester County Health Department recommended all private and public schools – including daycares – in Delaware County “go virtual” and remain closed until October 9th (which is a Friday, so the actual earliest date schools could reopen is October 12th).

If you’re okay with that, you can fast forward to the next blog post. If you’d like to give the Chester County Health Department a piece of your mind, submit a question or comment to them via email to Delaware County Council who will have CCHD as their special guest at tomorrows council meeting to explain their position on this very matter. 

I suspect one the first questions that will be asked to the Chester County Health Department at the Delaware County Council meeting will be, ‘Are you serious?’ It’s still not clear if this is a binding mandate or simply a recommendation, but with only a few short weeks left for school to open, districts around Chester County and Delaware County who were planning to open in some form are now in a scramble.

(FYI – Because Delaware County doesn’t have a health department, they were permitted to partner with Chester County’s Health Department for a little help during the days of coronavirus).

Here’s your chance to participate in local government by submitting a comment to County Council by 6pm tomorrow (Wednesday). It’s the best thing you can do to try to begin to turn the tide on the school reopening issue. The more comments, the better.

Comments do not have to be lengthy. Below you’ll see 12 suggestions you can cut and paste or use as a jumping off point to write your own comment. These suggested comments have been designed to highlight different potential flaws in the CCHD guidance and decision making underpinning it.

Please note: as long as the comments are sent in by 6pm tomorrow, they will be incorporated into the meeting.

To submit a comment, send an email along with your full name and address, to: PublicComment@co.delaware.pa.us. Please reference the following agenda item in the email (feel free to cut and paste):

This comment is submitted pursuant to Item 23 on the August 18, 2020 County Council Agenda Meeting, which is captioned Discussion and explanation of Chester County Health Department’s guidance recommending the closures of all schools in Delaware County until October 9, 2020 and outlining specific metrics to consider in deciding to operate virtually, hybrid or fully in person instruction.

Suggested comments or potential topics for comments are below. If your school district has already decided not to open, questions 11 and 12 may be for you. 

  1. If CCHD is concerned that opening schools will increase the community spread of COVID in our area, why doesn’t CCHD also recommend that other high-traffic businesses “go virtual” until October 9th? For example, why does the recommendation to close the schools not also extend to Harrah’s, or Target, or Acme? Shouldn’t the citizens of Delaware County be asked to gamble or shop online if their kids are being compelled to go to school online? Why single out schools – which haven’t even been open since March – if the overall public health concern is reducing the spread of the virus from the current levels? Why not instead modify the guidance issued to businesses that arguably were permitted to reopen too soon?
  1. Did CCHD give any consideration to the potential follow-on effects from having all of the schoolchildren in Delaware and Chester County be at home until October 12th? If the recommendation also applies to day care centers, how are children under 12 expected to participate in online learning if their parents have to be at work during the day? 
  1. Has CCHD considered the potential inequities and harms to kids that are likely to result from starting at least the first six weeks of school in an online environment? Specifically, that some children will participate in online learning and others will not? Or that some kids will be left home unattended while their parents go to work? Has any attempt been made to balance the potential risk of contracting COVID-19 in the schools with the potential harm that may come from children being neglected / alone at home? 
  1. Guidance on school reopening has also been issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and by the PA Department of Education. None of that guidance mandates that schools “go virtual” until at October 9th. Is the CCHD guidance a mandate, or merely a recommendation?
  1. The metrics upon which the CCHD guidance is based have remained stable or decreased since July. During that time, some school districts and many private schools announced that they were prepared to safely resume in person instruction. For those schools, closing now would represent a 180 degree reversal from the position they have articulated with their communities, during a period when case counts have been decreasing in our area. 
  1. Why is this guidance being issued now, just weeks in advance of the school year, giving parents very little time to change their schedules to accommodate kids remaining at home? Was County Council consulted in advance of this guidance being issued? 
  1. Did the CCHD review the school reopening guidance issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics as part of issuing its most recent guidance? If not, why?
  1. It was mentioned in the August 18th agenda meeting that one of the reasons for the guidance was that some schools are “struggling with staffing.” Why should the level of preparedness of any given school (or school district) serve as a basis to close all public and private schools?
  1. Has any consideration been given by CCHD about the varying degree of online participation by school districts? For example, does CCHD have any information about whether more affluent districts are more likely to have their kids participate in online learning than less affluent districts? If so, is it possible that the recommendation that children remain at home and participate in education online will exacerbate inequality both within and across school districts in Delaware County?
  1. Has the CCHD given consideration to the mental health challenges children are facing,    and will continue to face, as they endure an unprecedented period of seven full months – best case – without in person education if these recommendations are heeded? If so, what evidence did CCHD consider regarding the mental health consequences of their decision to recommend the postponement of the start of the 2020/21 school year?
  1. (Particularly for the schools who already decided to stay closed like Chester-Upland) Will schools open as many did in the spring to serve meals to children who depend on this food for breakfast and lunch even if there will be no instruction?
  1. Even if entire school student populations will be delayed in starting school, will students with special needs who receive much of their care from school staff be eligible to return to school, or at least be the first to return?