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).

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