Safely Reopen RVSD
July 21, 2020
Dear RVSD School Board Trustees,
We want to express our deep gratitude for your time and focus on solving this complex return to school issue during this unprecedented global pandemic. We have no doubt, as parents and educators yourselves, your priority is the long-term well-being of our children and teachers.
This letter is in follow up to the recent School Board meetings and is intended to provide additional support for in person instruction. As concerned parents in this district, we want to amplify the voices of our children as we believe all decisions regarding the education of our children should be made using data, science and evidence including specific guidance from our Marin County Public Officer.
We are writing this letter in support of safely resuming in person learning in the fall. Specific areas of emphasis are as follows:
- All decisions should be made using science, evidence and expert advice. Consistent with guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, these decisions should be based upon evidence, not politics.
- Mitigation of risk for all children, teachers, administrators and staff is critical and must incorporate proven safety protocol strategies not only from around the world, but from safe school re-openings in Marin County in Spring and camps this summer.
- Ongoing distance learning does not address the social, emotional and mental health impact on children.
- Estimates anticipate significant gaps in achieving grade level standards in both reading and math resulting from distance learning.
- Decisions should be made based on our local community, informed by evidence and data, based upon public health guidance and with choice provided to parents.
On June 18, 2020, the Marin County Public Health and Marin County Office of Education issued A Public Health Guided Return to Site-Based Classroom Instruction. The document provides guidelines to help facilitate and return to site-based classroom instruction and applies to all Marin County educational institutions, including public, private, independent and parochial TK-12 schools. Along with a detailed safety plan, this guidance recommends return to in-person classroom learning 5 days a week. We fully support and agree with this guidance.
- Base decisions on science, evidence and expert advice, not politics.
- Use science to mitigate risk.
- Address social, emotional and mental impacts to our children.
- Distance learning is inadequate.
- Make local decisions in the best interest of our District.
On July 9, 2020, Marin Educators for Safe Schools offered zoom calls for communities to learn about their perspective on the safe reopening of schools. The three core principles discussed were 1) Protect vulnerable students, 2) Safety for all and 3) Local control over schools. These principles obviously are critical to all constituents; however, the devil is in the detail with how these principles are applied. We ask that the discussion of these principles reference the evidence, data and science specific to children with specific application of the safety standards set by Marin County Public Health. There does not appear to be any disagreement that districts need to continue to pursue deployment of the public health guidelines to create safe classrooms for our teachers, staff and students.
We understand this decision is a fine balance of navigating important choices, none of which come with a zero-risk option. We should focus efforts on mitigation of risk since elimination of risk is impossible, while balancing the risk of COVID against risks of not reopening schools. The thoughtful guidance provided by our public health office combined with detailed district planning will afford our children, our teachers, our administration and our school staff a safe environment to return to in person classroom learning. It is imperative that we provide our children with equal opportunities and equity to thrive as growing individuals and avoid isolating them at home. When this global pandemic struck this nation, we were unprepared with little data or science to guide decision making. Now, we have more scientific evidence to support these important decisions while maintaining the flexibility required to pivot as the pandemic evolves.
As the world has experienced this pandemic, we now better understand this disease, the populations most impacted and more refined treatment options resulting in fewer hospital admissions, shorter less intensive length of stays and a lower death rate. We must continue to look beyond just an increase in cases and instead focus on hospitalizations and the death rate, as well as the source of spread in our community. Utilizing proven safety measures as outlined by public health can mitigate risk in our schools. Continued flexibility to respond to changes in community spread must be addressed and consistently recalibrated in any plan to ensure ongoing safety. Teachers who are older or have underlying health conditions deserve special accommodations. That said, we now have evidence from other countries and our own county that return to in classroom learning does not increase disease spread. Per Marin County Public Health, closing schools is not protective to the community and in fact, school closures increase the spread of COVID.
Specific examples include:
- “ …children have a lower susceptibility to infection, lower propensity to show clinical symptoms or both … susceptibility to infection in individuals under 20 years of age is approximately half that of adults over 20 … “ - Nature Medicine, Age-dependent effects in transmission and control of COVID-19 epidemics, June 16, 2020
- “ … School closures have a limited effect on population case rates …” - Nature Medicine, Age-dependent effects in transmission and control of COVID-19 epidemics, June 16, 2020
- “ … most countries where schools had reopened after passing the peak of the epidemic showed no immediate spike in new cases so far …” - Center for Global Development, Back to School: An update on COVID cases as schools reopen, June 12, 2020
- “…school closures come at a big cost …” - - Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health
- “… the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with the goal of having students physically present at school…” - American Academy of Pediatrics, COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry
- “…Policy makers must also consider the mounting evidence regarding COVID-19 in children and adolescents, including the role they may play in transmission of the infection. SARS-CoV-2 appears to behave differently in children and adolescents than other common respiratory viruses, such as influenza, on which much of the current guidance regarding school closures is based. Although children and adolescents play a major role in amplifying influenza outbreaks, to date, this does not appear to be the case with SARS-CoV-2. Although many questions remain, the preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2 infection. In addition, children may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection. Policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within schools must be balanced with the known harms to children, adolescents, families, and the community by keeping children at home.” - American Academy of Pediatrics, COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry
- “… there is tremendous harm in not having in-person school …” - Dr. Scott Atlas, senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute
- “…It is absolutely critical that we get kids back to school … there are costs to children’s physical and social well-being with ongoing remote learning from home …” - Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health
- CDC Director emphasized that his agency’s guidelines were only recommendations, and he urged schools to find ways to reopen (especially given the CDC never recommended closing schools) while minimizing the spread of COVID-19: “Nothing would cause me greater sadness than to see any school district or school use our guidance as a reason not to reopen.” - Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC Director
- “ … These preliminary COVID Slide estimates suggest students could begin fall 2020 with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading from the prior year relative to a typical school year. In mathematics, students may show even smaller learning gains from the previous year, returning with less than 50% of the gains. In lower grades, students may be nearly a full year behind in math compared to what we would observe in normal conditions.
- “… Even with the amazing work of schools and parents, we know that remote learning was not working for all and that many students were being left behind. We also know that the social emotional needs of our children are best met through the special relationships that are developed with their peers, their teachers, and school staff. The best place for students is in their schools. Using the extensive guidance provided by our Public Health partners, we know our schools have the commitment and creativity to do this, and to do it well." - Mary Jane Burke, Marin County Superintendent of Schools
- Marin Community School Spring Pilot
- Sausalito School reopened during the pandemic
We have clinicians advocating for the return to school given the mental, emotional and social impacts to children:
We also have evidence that distance learning doesn’t provide an adequate education for most children, nor does it provide advancement in grade level standards. Further, our district curriculum is created to deliver in classroom education and our teachers are trained for classroom teaching. Virtual learning, curriculum development and teacher training requires a different approach.
In our own county, we also have demonstrated success of students returning to in person classroom learning during the onset of the COVID in the Spring. This return to school was during a time when much less was known about the disease, safety protocols and treatment. Schools in both Marin City and San Rafael have safely and successfully returned to in classroom learning without a spike in cases or spread of illness.
Through earlier surveys completed during distance learning, we know that a high percentage of our parent population want their children to return to in person classroom learning. Those parents that want to continue Distance Learning should have that choice. We must consider school essential. We must consider teachers essential. We must consider the education of our children essential. Our district schools and the distinguished education provided is one of the cornerstones of this tight-knit community. The Ross Valley School District must hold ourselves to a higher standard and lead our broader community. Our parent community has a long history demonstrating enthusiastic engagement to support the District, the schools and our esteemed teachers through the YES Foundation and PTAs. Our community of innovators and entrepreneurs possess the skill, resource and desire to support our schools. Solution oriented planning, optimizing the resources of this community and careful creativity can support solving this difficult problem together. We stand ready to support the critical safe return to in-person classroom learning this fall. As we all like to say, “it’s for the kids”!
“Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible”.
–Francis of Assisi
Ross Valley School District Concerned Parents