Email to the Rose Tree Media School District School Board, 5/19/2022

Because I continue to believe in open communication with elected representatives and that sunshine is the best disinfectant, I am sharing here my email to the Rose Tree Media School District school board. I sent this tonight in the wake of our county jumping (both predictably and as predicted) from the “Low” CDC community level to the “High” level today.


Dear Dr. Dimarino-Linnen and members of the Rose Tree Media School District School Board,

I am a parent of a child at [REDACTED], as well as another child too young to be in the district’s schools and thus too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, Delaware County is now in the “High” community levelaccording to the CDC. So are all of the neighboring counties in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, with the lone exception of Philadelphia County, which is currently at “Medium.”

This comes three days after the Board voted to remove the 2% threshold for mandatory masking in our district’s schools. That change was proposed to the Board and presented to the community as being based in large part on our community’s “Low” community level according to the CDC’s criteria. Obviously (and predictably), we are no longer at that level. And as was the case before the Board’s vote, our district’s schools had transmission rates more than 8 times the rates in Delaware County as a whole, equivalent to 2,196 cases per 100,000 over the course of a week.

Dr. D., I am asking you to reinstate mandatory masking in our district’s schools for the remainder of the school year. We have known since early in the pandemic that two-way masking is far more effective than one-way masking, especially given that individuals may not always know they are contagious. It is simply not enough for those who are concerned to wear masks or asks their kids to do so, not with so much virus in the air. This remains a very serious illness, and a potentially life-threatening one for many parents, staff, and students in the district. Please help us protect our kids, family, and community.

Please also let the community know where parents and community members can find the recording of Monday’s meeting. In your email last Friday, you stated that a livestream link would be sent out before the meeting, as required by Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law and Board Policy No. 006.1. Neither my wife nor I received that link.

PastedGraphic-1.png
PastedGraphic-2.png

Sincerely,

Ed Cottrell

Public Comments on My School District’s Response to Rising Cases of COVID-19 in Our Schools, Part II

Last week, I shared my comments regarding my school district’s proposal to eliminate the trigger it set for reinstituting mandatory masking in a given school. The school board decided on February 24, 2022 to go “mask-optional,” but would require masks again in any particular school if that school’s five-day case rate exceeded 2% of the student population. Last week, three schools crossed that line, and the others came close.

Combined COVID Rates across All RTMSD Schools
Combined COVID Rates across All RTMSD Schools. The week ending 5/13/2022 saw a 165% increase across schools over the week before, to a 2.2% total incidence rate.

The school board responded to this crisis by proposing to eliminate the 2% threshold. This is not a rational response but clearly driven by fear and frustration. The board plans to vote tomorrow, May 16, on this proposal. Below are my public comments, sent to the board, regarding this vote.


I am a parent of a child at [REDACTED] and am writing to oppose removing the 2% threshold for making masks mandatory in a building. Such a move would be unscientific and dangerous in the light of the current outbreaks in all six of our RTMSD schools.

First, the board is apparently relying on incorrect definitions and misused terminology to make the wrong decision. The email to the community on Friday, May 13, refers three times to “community transmission” and describes our current level of community transmission as “low.” The presentation to the board on Thursday, May 12, refers to our “community spread rates” as “very low.” These statements are simply inaccurate. The CDC has defined both “community levels” and “community transmission” levels. This is confusing, but they are different things. We are currently in the “Low” community level, but in the “high” community transmission level. Our county’s transmission level of 189 cases per 100,000 over the last 7 days is so high that it is about to push us back into the medium or high “community level,” which will happen if we cross 200. This could happen as soon as the weekend data comes in on Monday.

The presentation also contained misleading graphs which made it look like only Indian Lane Elementary School had a large uptick in cases this week. But every school in the district had a huge increase this week. Week over week, Glenwood was up 700%, Indian Lane 1,000%, Media 100%, Penncrest 25%, Rose Tree 120%, and Springton Lake 183%. Combined, the six schools have a 2.2% incidence rate, up from only 0.8% last week. These are alarming changes and precisely why the trigger was put in place. I have assembled graphics making clear how dramatic these increases are at https://www.edcottrell.com/rtmsd-covid-statistics/

The presentation also referred to CDC guidance and said, “Universal wearing of masks is no longer recommended in areas of Low or Medium transmission.” That is true but completely irrelevant. The board is not discussing “universal masking” for a geographic area but only masking inside particular RTMSD school buildings. Our schools do not currently reflect the broader community; the outbreak in our schools puts them at more than ten times the rate of spread that the CDC considers “High.” Universal masking in these buildings is absolutely necessary at this moment to protect our children.

Finally, the presentation has a “Medical Guidance” slide which has nothing to do with this proposal. It certainly does not support dropping the trigger. If anything, the AAP information about “reinstituting face mask requirements” would support keeping the trigger. And the CHOP Policy Lab bullets are misleading if they are meant to imply mask mandates in our schools would not help. We are not trying to destroy the virus globally; we are trying to protect our kids, school staff, and their families during an intense outbreak in our schools. And our schools are major sources of community spread right now.

We all want this to end. But acting like it is over doesn’t make it so. I urge the board: have some courage. Be willing to do the right thing, even if it disappoints some parents. Stop surrendering to the virus because it is inconvenient, and start standing up for our kids.

Sincerely,
Ed Cottrell

Sources referenced above:


Update 5/16/2022: Our school board went ahead and watered down the Health and Safety Plan. In the process, they also gave the superintendent sole control over changes to masking policies in the future (a change they didn’t preview last week).

Public Comments on My School District’s Response to Rising Cases of COVID-19 in Our Schools

I am the father of a child who attends a local, public school. Our school district recently dropped its mask mandates, opting for a masks-optional scheme. Masks would become mandatory again in a given school if cases reported or detected in that school over a five-day period exceeded 2% of that school’s population of students, faculty, and staff. (The plan only calls for the board to “determine” whether masks are necessary if the entire community moves back into “high” transmission.)

Today, two of the schools in our district hit the 2% threshold. The school board responded immediately… by requiring masks in those two schools effective tomorrow and by issuing a proposal for tomorrow night’s board meeting, under which they would drop that 2% threshold and keep all of the schools mask-optional.

Because this strikes me as about as reasonable as cutting off your parachute because you don’t like how it pulls on your shoulders when it’s slowing you down, I wrote the following.


I am a parent of a child at [REDACTED] and I am writing to express my opposition to any further weakening of the Health and Safety Plan. Nothing has changed about the virus or its risks that makes the current environment safer than when the 2% trigger was adopted. If anything, the opposite is true; the variants circulating now are the most contagious we have seen, and each is much more contagious than Omicron or other, earlier variants.

The only thing that has changed this week to prompt this conversation is a surge in new cases in RTMSD schools this week. This was entirely predictable—and actually predicted—but at least we planned ahead for what to do when cases went back up. Now that we’ve tripped the threshold we set for ourselves to go back to mandatory masking in a school, we apparently don’t like that decision so much.

The whole point of the 2% threshold was so we would have an agreed-upon (if far too high) trigger to initiate a more vigorous response to an outbreak. But instead of responding with increased safety measures as planned, we’re contemplating simply dropping the trigger and ignoring the rapid spread of COVID in our schools unless and until the entire community is engulfed. Even having this conversation at this moment is absurd, scientifically unsound, negligent, and shameful. To follow through by further gutting the plan in direct response to a surge in cases should be unthinkable.

I urge you to have the courage to do your duty and provide the children and staff of this school district a safe learning environment. Retain the trigger and keep masks mandatory in those schools that have reached it.

Sincerely,
Ed Cottrell


Update 5/11/2022:

A third school—my daughter’s—hit the threshold today with a 1.8% one-day incidence rate, putting it well over 2% for the five-day period. But I fully expect our school board to respond to these numbers by dropping the trigger so that “parents [can] make decisions that work best for their family circumstances,”* as if “family circumstances” have anything to do with how easily a virus spreads through the air in a crowded building.

* This is a direct quotation from the district’s message to parents yesterday.


Update 5/12/2022:

It’s moving to a vote on Monday, the soonest the board can legally vote on it. The rationale is that other school districts in our region have also eviscerated their health and safety plans recently, so we should, too. No mention of scientific or medical guidance or support. We “know how to respond” and “have a plan,” so that apparently makes it okay to remove the plan. Our school superintendent blessed parents who are uncomfortable sending their kids to school with a mask in the meantime to keep them home. She didn’t have any suggestions for parents who are uncomfortable with the rapid spread of COVID in the schools or the fact that the vast majority of people in the buildings are no longer masking.

%d bloggers like this: