Living through a pandemic has been stressful on students.
Robert Reichardt, president of the Littleton Public Schools board, points out that students' mental and physical health — as well as their learning — have been affected.
Therefore, LPS is looking forward to welcoming students back this month in a setting that is as normal as possible.
“It's important to acknowledge that this is a stressful time for everybody,” Reichardt said. “The pandemic has been a constant learning exercise around what works and what doesn't.”
On July 28, Superintendent Brian Ewert sent a letter outlining the district's COVID-19 health and safety protocols for the 2021-2022 school year, which starts Aug. 12.
The school district, which educates about 15,000 students, is planning to start the 2021-2022 school year without a mask requirement, and at the capacity it had prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools will, however, practice physical distancing as much as is possible without disrupting the learning environment.
“COVID-19 vaccines for employees and eligible students will continue to be an individual decision and will not be required,” states Ewert's letter.
School Age Child Care, which is the district's in-house, before-and-after-school childcare, will operate with the same protocols as elementary schools.
Ewert's letter describes the district's health and safety protocols for COVID-19 as “layered and overlapping.” LPS believes these measures — which include frequent hand washing, cleaning, disinfecting, physical distancing and improved ventilation — have been effective.
The letter states that about 700 students in preschool through 12th grade attended LPS summer school programs throughout June, and only two COVID-19 positive cases were reported during that time, according to the letter.
“We believe that is due to our layered approach,” Ewert wrote.
Amanda Crosby, president of the Littleton Education Association teachers union, agrees that the layered and overlapping measures work, but feels schools should be held to those standards of cleanliness all the time.
“Schools need to be clean. When teachers ask for cleaning supplies,” Crosby said, “they should get them. That should be happening whether there's a pandemic or not.”
School bus transportation for the 2021-2022 year will resume at pre-COVID-19 capacity, and all students and staff will be required to wear a mask while on a school bus, regardless of vaccination status. This is a federal law, Ewert's letter states.
LPS receives federal funding to provide all students with breakfasts and lunches, so that will continue this upcoming school year. Parents, volunteers and other visitors will again be welcome inside the schools; and school clubs, enrichment activities, school assemblies and field trips will resume. LPS is glad to be able to resume these experiences because they are “hugely important” to a student's social and academic well-being, Reichardt said, as well as being beneficial to the greater community.
Reichardt said he realizes that not everybody is going to agree with the district's decisions on COVID-19 health and safety protocols for the upcoming school year. He added that it's a “tough balance.” However, according to Ewert's letter, LPS' plans are “consistent with the plans of all metro-area school districts.”
But, “it's important to remember that plans could change if public health orders become more restrictive or if our community and/or our schools experience a concerning increase in COVID-19 cases,” Ewert wrote. “We ask for your continued patience and flexibility as we do our very best to balance a return to a more normal schedule with keeping our students and employees healthy.”
The district is committed to communication and will update families regularly to help keep them informed on any changes, should they need to occur, Reichardt said. Additionally, the district will continue to provide information vaccine availability, including sites located on-and-off LPS properties.
However, LPS will rely on parents to make the best decision for their children, and on staff members to make the best decision for themselves — particularly concerning COVID-19 vaccinations and mask-wearing, Ewert's letter states.
LPS is asking for students who show symptoms of COVID-19 or other illnesses to stay home from school and activities. The district will not notify school communities about positive and/or symptomatic cases, but “LPS will follow the public health orders for quarantine of (students), family members of students and staff who test positive for COVID-19,” states the letter.
“Schools are an integral part of their community,” Crosby said. She added that LPS will do whatever it takes to keep its schools safe and healthy. “We've learned it takes all of us to come together, during a pandemic, to keep all of us safe.”
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