Keep Kids Healthy and In School
Dear Dr. Taylor, Members of the SOMSD Board of Education, Maplewood Health Officer, Candice Davenport, and South Orange Health Officer, John Festa:
We want to start by acknowledging the hard work, planning and collaboration it has taken to roll out the most current version of protocols for a return to full-time, in-person instruction this fall. We are writing to ask you to employ additional mitigation strategies which will protect our students, staff and community from the highly transmissible Delta variant as they will be returning for full-day, in person instruction in a matter of weeks. We ask that you act now to implement the following:
- a district-wide plan for outdoor lunch and snacks, and
- regular surveillance testing to prevent asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic community members from transmitting the virus to others.
The Delta variant is on the rise and can make children and even vaccinated adults seriously ill (see FN 1, 2). The state has mandated that all students attend school in person, yet half of our student population cannot be vaccinated, and some of our students, teachers, and family members are at risk for serious illness. This situation demands that the district take more protective measures than they have in the past. We are grateful that you implemented a mask mandate early, but the current risks require more.
Outdoor eating and surveillance testing would decrease virus transmission, which would result in fewer interruptions, quarantines and shutdowns. They would allow for more consistent in-person instruction and fewer sick kids. These are goals the entire district can support.
It is clear that removing masks indoors poses a high risk of transmission. This is especially important as your recent communication noted that some classrooms will not even allow for recommended distancing when masked. Removing masks in these settings is particularly dangerous, and is still high-risk even in cafeteria settings. Outdoor eating would eliminate the need to unmask indoors, providing necessary protection. It is not enough to ask principals to develop creative solutions around eating; it is incumbent upon you to lead, to set a standard of outdoor eating for all students at all schools, to make a policy that would provide the same protection to every student in the district.
Surveillance testing is also necessary at this point in the pandemic. It is impossible to keep children safe without knowing where cases are coming from. Testing is how you control spread -- not testing puts lives unnecessarily at risk.
Many districts will be implementing testing this fall. The second largest district in the country, Los Angeles, will be doing baseline and ongoing weekly testing of all faculty, staff, and students as will many other districts across the country, including local districts like Newark and Millburn (see FN 3). With federal support and funding, coupled with our local town leadership support, and the support from our community, we believe testing is attainable and urge you to implement testing protocols. Pool testing would keep our SOMSD community safer, and act as a “guard rail” for the hard-won return to full-time, in-person learning, by helping to prevent the outbreaks and community spread that can jeopardize consistent in-person school.
We know these measures are not without challenges, but we believe they are necessary. Necessary to keep all of our students in school as much as possible. Necessary to protect the health of our students, staff and families, especially those most vulnerable during this pandemic. Implement testing and outdoor eating to provide equitable protection to all in our district. We look forward to your thoughtful consideration of these matters.