Delta Variant Leaves School Plans in Flux

Perelman Jewish Day School students learn under a tent. Courtesy of Judy Groner

By Leah Snyderman

Not too long ago, hopes were high for the new school year.

Vaccination rates were rising and COVID cases were dropping, and it looked like the 2021-2022 school year would be back to “normal.”

However, with the new delta variant more contagious than previous mutations, and cases on the rise again, school districts are being forced to think about what that means for the start of the 2021-’22 academic year.

Because of how quickly things change, and since many schools won’t be starting for a few more weeks, most districts are still in the planning phase and may be forced to make changes on the fly. Many schools aren’t even talking publicly about their plans at
this point.

Last year, most schools operated on a hybrid model. Some students were virtual and others attended in person. Masks were mandated, and quarantine policies were strict.

For now, only those ages 12 and up are eligible for the vaccine, so school districts are strategizing the best ways to keep their younger students safe.

Perelman Jewish Day School is requiring that faculty, students and staff be vaccinated when applicable. As there isn’t a federal or state policy requiring staff or students be vaccinated, the school has said it is strongly encouraged.

But Perelman will require universal masking, which was enforced last year and successfully prevented outbreaks. Also, Perelman will practice physical distancing, outdoor learning and eating, as well as strict quarantining after exposure.

“We continue to work closely with our medical advisory committee,” Head of School Judy Groner said.

The Lower Merion School District is asking for proof of vaccination from students to aid them in planning and contact tracing.

The district will share its final plans with parents closer to the start of the school year. For now, masks are being required at all summer programs, regardless of vaccination status.

“We continue to ask parents/guardians and staff to report any positive cases of COVID-19 to the Student Health Services Department, using the COVID-19 Healthline established last year,” said Amy Buckman, director of school and community relations.

Both Lower Merion and Perelman are following guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and their respective counties. Because the guidelines are constantly changing, so, too, will district plans.

For example, New Jersey and Philadelphia both implemented a mask mandate, which means that all K-12 students and staff must wear a mask in school, regardless of vaccination status.

Despite the unknowns, schools are pledging to provide the safest possible environment for the children.

“Our families are committed to protecting each other,” Groner said.

Leah Snyderman is an intern for the Jewish Exponent.


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