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August 19, 2020
August 19, 2020
Greetings! I am looking forward to welcoming students and staff back to our facilities over the next two weeks, and wanted to provide everyone with an update on our plans and preparations for our re-opening. This past Thursday, August 13, CCIU hosted a four-county superintendent summit that featured a virtual panel discussion with medical professionals from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Main Line Health Services. A similar panel discussion was also held on Thursday, July 30 for Chester County superintendents with medical professionals from Penn Medicine and Main Line Health Services. These discussions, along with updated guidance from the Chester County Health Department (CCHD) released this past Friday, August 14 re-affirms our CCIU reopening plans for our preschool programs, special education programs, and career and technical education programs.
The Chester County Department of Health’s (CCHD) most recent guidance recommends all schools in Chester and Delaware counties begin the year 100% online through October 9, 2020, with exceptions for in-person instruction for special education students, career and technical education students, preschool students and other special populations as long as there is adherence to the CCHD health and safety guidelines. As a result, the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) is able to safely open in-person special education, career and technical education and early childhood programs. We can safely run these programs at CCIU by reducing class sizes, using personal protective equipment (PPE), following safety protocols and relocating students and staff to additional space in CCIU’s over 1,000,000 square feet of space for classes.
We are following the guidance of our Chester County public health officials since they are our local public health organization. The COVID-19 pandemic is a medical issue that necessitates us to strongly consider the public health guidance of our area. Currently, the CCHD feels it is safe for us to open our programs with the necessary precautions taken. You can find a list of the planned reopening by CCIU program/service here: Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) and Technical College High School (TCHS) Planned Reopening 2020-21.
Below are the highlights of the guidance that directly apply to the CCIU’s programs:
- Recommends all schools, public and non-public, to open virtually for instruction until October 9 with exceptions to special education programs, career and technical education and early childhood programs.
- Schools providing special education, early childhood development programs or career and vocational education are exempt from starting the academic year virtually and are strongly recommended to follow the additional guidance provided in the Students Served by Special Education, Early Childhood Development Programs or Career and Technical Education Programs section for additional guidance.
- Instructional models that are more specific than PA Department of Health guidance released earlier this week aligned to COVID incident and positivity rates. Chart below:
Currently in Chester County, our current incidence per 100,000 residents is 36.8 and declining, and our PCR positivity testing rate is 3.4% and declining. According to the Chester County Health Department, Mainline Health and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), we are able to safely open our programs at the CCIU due to the unique needs of the students and programs coupled with our ability to provide PPE and follow safety precautions.
As an educational organization, we rely heavily on the guidance of medical professionals and take their recommendations very seriously. We are confident in their recommendations and will continue to work closely with the state and county health departments, the Pennsylvania Department of Education and medical professionals from CHOP, Penn Medicine and Mainline Health. As recommendations and guidance change, we will continue to reevaluate the status of buildings and programs and update instructional models accordingly.
I know the recommendations from the CCHD may cause some confusion or concern regarding the CCIU opening its buildings and programs for the start of the 2020-21 school year. Please know, the guiding principle throughout this entire process has been and will continue to be prioritizing the health and safety of our students and staff.
As mentioned above, a major factor that contributes to our ability to safely offer in-person instruction is that the CCIU has access to approximately one million square feet of space spanning over 30 facilities. Additionally, based on parent feedback and school district plans, we anticipate significantly fewer students in our facilities than we would in a typical school year. Through flexible scheduling of students either in-person, hybrid or virtual instruction, we will be able to set-up classrooms to allow for six-feet of social distancing. In addition, staff will be provided with PPE including face masks, disposable gowns and shoe coverings for when interaction with a student requires staff and students to be closer than six feet to one another.
As you know, the CCIU serves the county’s most vulnerable populations and we recognize that in-person instruction is at times necessary to ensure that every student has equitable access to educational resources. Additionally, the students in our career and technical education programs will have the ability to apply the theory lessons by working with the tools, technology and resources in the labs to practice, design and build upon their skills utilizing the knowledge they acquired through theory. The lab work will provide direct connection of theoretical concepts, tasks and industry credentials that will support their future careers and post-secondary readiness.
As long as we are able to do so safely, and it is allowable in the CCHD guidelines, CCIU will provide in-person instruction. Please review the Planned Reopening Chart of programs for specific programs opening plans.
I want to thank you for your flexibility and patience as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and for your dedication to our students throughout the pandemic. If you have any questions or concerns about the return to our buildings, please reach out to your direct supervisor. The health and safety of our students and staff continues to be at the forefront of our decisions. The CCIU is committed to protecting everyone’s well-being. I know this school year will look different from past years, but I believe the way we choose to respond to these circumstances will set the tone for our students moving forward.
We will need your assistance in keeping yourself, your colleagues and your students safe and healthy. Practice social distancing when at school, when at home and when out in public. Wear a mask when at school and when out and about in public (indoors and outdoors). Reduce exposure by avoiding large gatherings of friends, family and the general public. Wash your hands frequently and sanitize high-touch surfaces. Prior to coming to work each day, please conduct a self-health screening and stay home if you are not feeling well.
I look forward to making the most of the 2020-21 school year safely, and in the best interests of our students! Together, we can ensure our students have access to their education in a safe and healthy learning environment.
Stay safe and stay well.
Dr. George F. Fiore
Chester County Intermediate Unit