QCSD Health and Safety Plan aligns with county's updated guidance

QCSD Health and Safety Plan aligns with county's updated guidance
Posted on 08/24/2021

Good evening!  As promised in last week’s newsletter, attached is Quakertown Community School District’s 2021-22 Health & Safety Plan with highlighted recommended changes for the Board of School Directors to consider Thursday, August 26th.  These changes bring our plan up to date with the Bucks County Department of Health’s most recent guidance that was provided last evening. The updated plan is in alignment with local, state and federal guidance and mandates.  Our updated Health & Safety Plan with recommended changes was not reviewed by Dr. David Damsker, the Bucks County Health Director.  My request for review last week went unanswered.  

Thursday evening's School Board meeting will be run like the August 12th Board meeting.  It can be viewed on live stream at this link.  Similar to its last meeting, the Board will provide public comment opportunities during the Board meeting from both meeting attendees and those unable to attend the meeting.   The Board will accept signups for in-person and written public comments through Thursday noon.  To request to address the Board, fill out this form.
Click here for the public comment signup sheet. For those who are unable to attend the meeting but would like their comments placed into the record, click here.

Over the past four weeks the Board and I have received a number of emails from parents and others about what they think is best for Quakertown and their children.  Most of it is heartfelt and passionate in their way of thinking.  A couple of our School Directors have spent an inordinate amount of their own time doing their own research, sharing their opinions, and thoughtfully responding to emails they received from many of you.  Compared to what other districts have experienced this month, I am grateful that most of the dialogue has been civil and respectful given the vast difference of opinions in our community.  I hope that it continues this way.

As I reflect on all of these emails, and what I have recently read in social media posts and newspapers with eyes wide open, I would like to share a few thoughts.  Foremost in that is my responsibility for the safety, health and welfare of every child in our district once they step on a bus to the time they are delivered safely back to their bus stop at the end of the school day.  This also includes the same for all of our employees once they arrive at work, through their last coaching duty at night.  You should expect no less.  

Risk management is ingrained into my nature.  In my previous work life in the Army, as the chief of combat planning for units up to 10,000 soldiers with air assets, we planned down to literally the second and always assessed our plans for risk to our people.  In Quakertown, over the past eight years behind the curtain with risk assessment in mind, the Board has committed hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital projects and staff time training to protect our community’s most precious assets - our children, and those who teach and support them every day.  So it’s in our Administration’s team nature to minimize risk. It's not the same as just being cautious, risk management is planned and calculated.

The updates to the QCSD Health & Safety Plan minimize risk.  While the county guidance spells out that “[a]ll individuals (students, teachers, staff, visitors) should wear masks in schools K-12 to begin the school year regardless of vaccination status.  Individuals do not need to wear masks when outdoors.  Per the CDC order on wearing masks on public transportation, regardless of the school mask policy, masks are required to be worn by passengers and drivers on school buses,“ the plan also gives us the ability to pivot to mask-optional should the County Health Director update his guidance when the data and the circumstances support the change.  Mitigation measures in the plan are least impactful to student attendance, e.g. close contacts are not sent home, because students are masked when the Quakertown area has high COVID positive cases, which is one of the close contact exceptions under the CDC guidelines.  It also minimizes the risk (and stress) for many of our students and staff who have medical conditions or concerns and who need to be and want to be in school.  I think about how diligent parents are with children with peanut allergies and other health issues that we accommodate to be able to serve all students.  With COVID, the number is magnified.  Finally, since the recommended changes to the plan are in alignment with the county through following CDC guidance, liability insurance protection concerns and $5.1 ESSER grant funding concerns are non-existent. Being a non-aligned district with neither county, state or the federal government places us financially at risk. 

More important than the finances is how our sense of community is being tested by this issue.  As long as I have worked in Quakertown, so many parents and residents have reminded the Board and me that QCSD is unique - that “Community” is part of our name for a reason.  We are coming off a very difficult and trying school year - juggling virtual/live shifts, teaching our children a whole new set of safety protocols, delivering effective instruction despite distancing and masks and limited recess activities and lunch in the classroom.  This health and safety plan provides the layered mitigation measures necessary to keep ALL our children - the healthy and the vulnerable - as safe as possible, while returning to most “normal” school activities like lunch in the cafeteria and assemblies, and daily live in person school without interruption because of case numbers or close contact quarantines. We have come a long way!  As a community, I hope that we can now come together to support each other, our principals, teachers and staff members to provide the best school experience possible for our precious children, even if the Board approves our recommendation to start the year with masks as one mitigation strategy.  Our unity of effort will serve our students well.

Thank you for reading!

Bill Harner


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