Dear BASD Families:
** This is a long communication. If you are looking for quick information, please skip to the end where you will find the summary in bold. **
This summer, we have received a substantial amount of change in the guidance and recommendations for the upcoming school year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The most recent recommendation is that all students and staff -- regardless of their vaccination status -- should wear masks to stop the spread of COVID-19.
At this time, the guidance from these organizations are recommendations. They are not currently mandates.
The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) issued a mandate that everyone on a school bus, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a mask.
I received communication from community members who are in favor of universal masking for all students and staff. I have also received communication from community members who do not want any masking in our schools.
Please know that I read every email and seriously consider each of your points of view. While the viewpoints that are shared with me are often night and day, there is one consistent theme and that is a passion for the well-being of children.
Some parents have asked why we are not requiring vaccines for all students (who are of age to receive it) and all staff members. Vaccine requirements for school age children in Pennsylvania are set by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, not the school district.
Similarly, there is some debate as to the authority of school districts to require students to wear masks. As the superintendent, I am limited to authorities and powers granted to me by the legislature in the Pennsylvania School Code. The school board is also limited to the authorities and powers granted to it in the Pennsylvania School Code.
Our school district solicitor has advised us of his belief that there is no enabling legislation for the school board or for me to order mandatory masking without an order from the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health or legislation enacted by the Pennsylvania Legislature and governor.
With that said, I have consulted several medical professionals, all of whom have recommended following the guidelines and encourage wearing a mask even when vaccinated.
Throughout the pandemic I have listened to Dr. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. On his July 29th podcast, he talked about masking. One of the points that he made is that a cloth mask worn properly will provide five to ten minutes of additional protection. That really does not do much for students who sit in the same classroom next to the same people all day. He also shared that wearing a KN95 mask provides up to 35 hours of protection. With that in mind, we have ordered KN95 masks that we will make available to both students and employees. The intent will be to provide them on a weekly basis to those who would like to wear one.
For those who would like an additional level of protection while at school, you should consider using the KN95 mask. Your child’s school will be sending additional information regarding how to sign up for a KN95 mask provided by the school district.
I encourage each of you to consult your family’s medical provider to determine what is the best for your child.
The most recent guidance released by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Education reaffirmed that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania still plans to continue with the mandatory quarantining of individuals who have a positive COVID test and those who are determined to be close contacts. The quarantine timelines are different based on vaccination status and if the individuals were wearing a mask. Therefore, the response to each positive case will be individualized and the quarantining requirements may be different for those involved. The chart below shows the impact of vaccination status and of wearing or not wearing a mask.
In addition to reaffirming the quarantining and isolation requirements, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Education also provided guidance on how schools respond to positive COVID cases. In short, there is not a recommendation to close schools for positive COVID cases. Instead, the recommendation is to layer mitigation strategies. In addition to quarantining and isolating individuals who are COVID positive or close contacts, mitigation strategies also include additional cleaning, opening windows/ increasing ventilation and, if possible, increasing social distancing.
For Butler Area School District, this means we will need to be flexible internally. I can foresee situations when we will need to relocate classrooms in our schools while a room is cleaned and ventilated. I can also foresee scenarios in which a classroom is moved to a larger space such as the school's library.
If your child has a fever or is experiencing COVID symptoms, please keep them home from school. If you are unsure, please keep your child home until you can consult with your child’s pediatrician or a school nurse for additional guidance.
We will continue to publicly report COVID cases on our website dashboard. In grades K-6, we will notify parents and guardians if there is a positive case found in the child’s classroom.
Masks are recommended for all faculty, staff and visitors. They are not required at school or school related events.
Masks are required on school buses, per the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA)’s federal mandate.
KN95 masks will be available for faculty and students who would like an additional level of protection.
Quarantine requirements are in place for students and staff members. Please note: the quarantine timeline varies based on whether or not individuals are vaccinated and whether or not individuals are wearing masks. See the chart for more detail.
Please keep your child home from school and activities if they have a fever, are experiencing COVID symptoms or meet the requirements on the chart above to quarantine.
As all of you probably know by now, things can change very rapidly. So while this is how we intend to proceed, that could change. Thank you for your continued understanding and support.
Brian J. White, Jr., Ed.D.
Butler Area School District