2021-2022 Opening-of-School COVID Protocols
July 20, 2021
Dear MCS Family,
As we approach the opening of school on August 3, I am providing you with both an overview (click here for pdf) and more detailed rationale for our approach. Since March 2020, our ongoing commitment has been to follow the science and the data to keep our schools as safe as possible amidst a pandemic. We are further committed to our schools being open for in-person learning while, at the same time, finding the right balance between safety protocols and student learning.
For those of you interested in the rationale and data behind our approach, the information below and future family town halls are intended to provide just that. For those of you who simply want the overview of our approach, I invite you to review the attachment. Regardless, our continued commitment is to overcommunicate with the greatest degree of transparency.
To that end, this email provides details for the following themes:
- Face Coverings
- Social Distance
- School Clinics
- Family Town Halls
Face coverings and masks are not required for students and staff in school buildings, on school buses, and at extracurricular activities. Staff and students who prefer to wear face coverings are welcome to do such, and face coverings are encouraged for students and staff who are not fully vaccinated. Our approach is based on several factors: first, the data shows the risk of student-to-student classroom COVID transmission is low. In fact, during the MCS summer learning program (held in June/July), more than 1,100 students attended in-person learning in grades K-12 – masks were optional and, despite four total cases among students and staff, there was no transmission to other program participants. Equally relevant, regarding adult-to-adult and adult-to-student transmission, we recognize we have a high percentage of MCS staff who have been vaccinated, thereby making our schools significantly safer. Second, regarding our school buses, there was not a single confirmed case of COVID transmission on an MCS school bus last year or this summer. The district also invested in ionization units for every school bus that consistency circulates and filters the air and, as an additional measure, the bus windows are open. As we consider each family’s ability to determine what is best for their child in terms of personal comfort and learning dynamics, our goal is to strike the right balance between safety, science, teaching, and learning.
Social distancing will occur when appropriate and feasible. Teachers will be encouraged to maximize the available space in the classroom; however, we acknowledge that not all learning can occur six feet apart. I have advised our staff that they may engage in the most appropriate learning activities with students, be that “rug time” in elementary grades or small-group instruction across all levels. As I will do with my own children, I encourage students to have a mask in their school bag and wear it if/when social distancing inside the classroom is not possible.
MCS will continue to provide hand sanitizer in all classrooms, common areas, and school buses. Further, while we recognize that the data shows surface-level contact does not pose a high risk for COVID transmission, daily cleaning of high-touch surfaces in school buildings and on school buses will continue. If a positive case of COVID is confirmed in a classroom, building, or school bus, additional disinfecting will occur the same day. These strategies will be implemented in addition to the ventilation upgrades, which include (but are not limited to) improved air filters with anti-microbial coating and increased air flow in all school classrooms, offices, and common areas.
As we did last year, any student or staff member who tests positive for COVID will be required to isolate in accordance with the isolation guidelines from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH). Our MCS nurses and contact tracing team will monitor to confirm that the appropriate requirements are met before the infected student or staff member returns to school/work. If your child tests positive, please immediately contact our MCS contact tracing team by email (email@example.com) or phone (678-695-7213).
Any student or staff member who is identified by our MCS contact tracing team as a close contact will be required to quarantine in accordance with quarantine guidelines from the Georgia DPH. Once again, our approach will be informed by both our reflection on and the data from this past school year, which showed that a high percentage of the students who were quarantined as close contacts did not subsequently test positive. Further, we know that the frequent disruptions to learning as a result of being quarantined can be difficult for students and disruptive for their families. We will not take a default universal approach to immediately quarantining a large group of students (e.g., an entire classroom) this year. Rather, we will be much more methodical and intentional about confirming who was, in fact, sitting within the designated space for an extended period of time of a student or staff member who tested positive.
We will continue to overcommunicate with families if/when we have confirmed, positive cases of COVID. An MCS nurse or a member of the MCS contact tracing team will contact the parent/guardian by phone and email if their student is identified as a close contact. Families will receive email notification from the principal if a positive COVID case is identified in their student’s classroom, school bus, or athletic team/extracurricular activity. A school-wide email will not be sent for each school-based positive case; however, as we did last year, active cases (organized by school/department) will be posted to our MCS website each Friday. Additionally, MCS will continue to host family town halls throughout the school year to provide opportunities for Q&A and further dialogue (see below for information regarding back-to-school town halls scheduled next week).
Our MCS nurses are highly trained and incredibly compassionate. I trust their judgment and empower them to make the appropriate medical assessments and maintain the correct safety standards. If a student exhibits COVID-related symptoms while in the school clinic, the nurse has the discretion to request the student wear a mask or be isolated while in the clinic. No child will be forced to wear a mask while in the clinic; rather, a symptomatic child who does not want to wear a mask will be isolated until the parent/guardian can come to take them home.
We respect that getting the COVID vaccine is a personal choice; at the same time, the data unequivocally supports that our schools and communities are safer as vaccination rates increase. Since March 2021, MCS has held vaccination clinics at Marietta High School in partnership with Poole’s Pharmacy to administer 4,600+ COVID vaccines to our staff, students, and families. As a district, we will continue to proactively support those in our community who wish to be vaccinated. If you are interested in receiving the COVID vaccine, please email MCSCOVIDvaccine@marietta-city.org.
Family Town Halls
Please refer to our MCS website for details regarding upcoming family town halls (in English and Spanish).
If community transmission data or MCS-specific data justify a need to change any of the above safety protocols, we will make the appropriate adjustments.
In closing, I thank each of you for being a partner with us along this journey. I have continued hope that together we can achieve the greatest sense of normalcy in our schools. We truly want your child to experience the love and learning they so richly deserve, and we are excited and ready to welcome them back on August 3.
Grant Rivera, Ed.D.