COVID update: back to normal?

With the new school year there have been new policies made to adapt to the changing COVID crises. Some were adapted from the previous year, some are new.

After almost one and a half years of abnormal school days, district wide shutdowns, and Zooming into class from our beds, things are finally starting to feel a little more normal. Both the hybrid learning program and [email protected] have been discontinued. There are no more ten minute breaks in between classes or constant changes to the lunch schedule. Lunch & Learn is back, along with a full five-day week of classes. Despite the seemingly never-ending obstacles, the LMSD administration, the School Board, and the Health and Safety Committee have made the return to school possible. When asked what the biggest challenge was in preparation for this school year, Athletics and Activities Director Jason Stroup explained, “I think the biggest challenge is that things are constantly changing, so the target is constantly moving. We’re trying to balance all of those guidelines and trying to make school functional for students and staff.”

While some normal traditions like Lunch & Learn have returned, the impact of COVID-19 is still prevalent through the use of the gym as an eating area. | Photo Courtesy of Anika Xi ’23/Staff

Pursuant to former Superintendent Copeland’s Health and Safety Planning Update, anyone entering the building must wear a mask at all times. This is in accordance with the  order from the Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of Health, which instated a mandatory face-covering order effective September 7, 2021. This order is for all Pennsylvania schools and is designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status. Masks are required on buses at all times. Wearing masks and making sure to follow the social distancing rules decrease the chances of another district wide shut down. Simply stated, wearing a mask will help promote the health and well-being of students and staff. All of these protocols align with the guidelines of the CDC and the Montgomery County Office of Public Health (MCOPH).

Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to maintain six-feet social distancing in school. Now that we’ve returned to the full in-person learning model, there are too many students and there is not enough space. In accordance with CDC guidelines, students need to maintain a three-foot distance from each other. Unlike last school year, there are now assigned seats on school buses to help with contact tracing.

Students congregate during Lunch and Learn in the library, something that has not occurred since 2020. | Photo Courtesy of Anika Xi ’23/Staff

The staircases have returned to their original two-way use, and Stroup noted,“We found that [restricting the direction of staircase travel] wasn’t really effective so we changed that except over in the chemistry building where it is effective.” Based on the low number of reported COVID-19 cases, these safety protocols appear to be working, or at the very least have not aggravated the crises.

The district’s COVID-19 dashboard lists the vaccination rates for the district by grade level. As of September 26, the following vaccination rates for the district were reported: 81.6 percent of ninth graders, 82.3 percent of tenth graders, 79.7 percent of eleventh graders, and 83.4 percent of twelfth graders. The vaccination rates of staff members are not available to the public, but staff members who are not vaccinated or do not wish to share their vaccination status must be tested for COVID-19 twice a week. A more detailed report of vaccination rates can be found on the LMSD website along with more information about reported cases. While not presently required by the school district, the CDC, MCOPH, and LMSD strongly encourage

vaccinations. Superintendent Copeland’s Health and Safety Planning Update states that, “If the high schools can reach a 90 percent vaccination level, the Health and Safety Committee will review whether masks will continue to be necessary at Lower Merion and Harriton.” Clearly one obvious path to the resumption of normalcy is to increase vaccination rates in the district.  

The pandemic forced major changes upon extracurricular activities—especially involving large gatherings. Unlike last fall, both indoor and outdoor sporting events allow spectators. Fans boost school spirit, student morale, and encourage athletic performance. Athletes are no longer required to partake in weekly rapid COVID-19 tests. Stroup states that while “indoor sports are currently masking, outdoor sports are optional.” Clubs and activities can do a lot more compared to last year, but the same mask protocols apply for them as sport teams. For example, LM Players can finally put on an in-person production. The full return of extracurricular activities means greater opportunities for student involvement and the expression of school spirit.

Some students prefer to eat in the courtyard, due to the lesser risk of COVID spread in outdoor spaces. | Photo Courtesy of Anika Xi ’23/Staff

In the past year and a half, school hasn’t been easy by any means. Students have missed

out on major school events and milestones. Now that we’re back in the building, we want to make sure that school doesn’t have to shut down again. Last spring was a step in the right direction, and now the school is taking even more precautions to help ensure everyone’s safety. Masking and distancing guidelines are updated and better enforced, most of the district is vaccinated, and extracurricular activities can return as usual. It is hopeful that with all of these protocols in place, the school year can continue as designed, and students can receive the education and enrichment they deserve.