My hope is this email finds you well and enjoying the end of your summer. Things continue to be busy around the schools as we ramp up for the start of the school year.
On June 30th, I sent out parent communication on the 2021-2022 school year plan. Today’s communication is an update to that email. For the most part, not much has changed for Portland since that communication.
Last year was rough for everyone, but also a success with all things considered. I want to thank everyone for their diligence to keeping our students and staff safe and showing that we can keep education essential for our students. It was no small task to pull off last year and we couldn't do it without our parents, staff, school board, community, and most importantly student support. This year will look different but our diligence will remain the same. As a district we were successful in implementing what was legally required and doing our best to focus on the intent of the recommendations. This year our approach is the same but will look different because the requirements and recommendations have changed.
It is our intent to return to as normal a school year as possible within the confines of what we are required to do. It is important to remember that those requirements do not come from Portland Public Schools as we are not the governing health agency. These requirements and recommendations come from several agencies and organizations that the district is legally required to follow, which include the ICHD, MDHHS, MIOSHA, and the Federal government (CDC). These agencies have made both requirements and recommendations for school districts. Portland Public Schools will implement all requirements for this school year but will not require recommendations.
While the district is not requiring all recommendations from these agencies, we still do encourage families to follow these recommendations, as well as support those families and students in their choices. The CDC, MDHHS, and ICHD have all put out recommendations for schools and continually update those recommendations based on the current transmission of COVID. As these agencies update their recommendations they may also add new requirements. When and if this happens I will notify parents of the district’s adoption plan and the impact it has on the school day.
Here is a list of common questions that will help everyone prepare for the start of the year:
What is currently required?
The ICHD has provided a one page document on What is Legally Required and What is Recommended to Keep Your Schools Healthy. Currently, we have four areas with requirements that we need to follow. All of the other COVID protocols from last school year have been removed for this school year.
Students Who are Sick: Students who have a communicable disease, such as COVID-19, are to be excluded from school. Parents and students are to screen for COVID-19 symptoms before leaving for school. Those with symptoms shall not report to school and will not be allowed to attend school. If a student shows up, or develops, symptoms at school they will be sent home immediately. We know this is a very difficult item for families. Please know that keeping your child home when sick is the most important safety protocol that we can implement to stop the spread of COVID and to support in-person instruction. We are happy to work with every family on this and encourage you to reach out to your child’s school if you have any questions on any illness that might prevent your child from attending. To view the most up-to-date list of COVID symptoms please visit the CDCs COVID Symptoms page. Parents should follow the ICHD’s student screening form (page 2).
Contact Tracing and Reporting: We are required to contact trace if there is a positive COVID case at a school event. What this looks like has changed from last school year, but the requirement has not changed. If we have a case we will send an email to parents of close contacts notifying them of the situation and recommend that their child quarantines. Communication will come via email and not by phone this year. We are required to report our cases to the ICHD and post our case numbers on our website.
Required Quarantines: Close contact quarantines are a recommendation, not a requirement, unless they are a close contact to an “outbreak” or to someone in their own home. Both of those situations result in a requirement to quarantine. The district and/or the ICHD will notify families if there is a required quarantine. Students who are required to quarantine will not be allowed to attend school. Quarantines are for 10 days from the last date of contact with a COVID positive person and may be reduced to 7 days with a negative COVID test after day 5.
Face Masks on Public Transportation: Students and staff are required to wear a mask when riding a school bus. This is a CDC requirement for all public transportation which includes school bus transportation. The CDC typically only makes recommendations but in this case, because buses are considered public transportation, they have made it a requirement.
What will next school year look like?
It is our intent to return to as normal a school year as possible within the confines of what we are required, not recommended, to do. It is important to remember that those requirements do not come from Portland Public Schools. These requirements come from several agencies and organizations that include the ICHD, MDHHS, MIOSHA, MHSAA, and the Federal government (CDC), which often appear to be in conflict with one another.
We have had a great turnout for our summer programs and have not had any COVID issues. As we did during the school year, we investigate every COVID case and we watch for any uncontrolled spread or outbreaks within these programs. MDHHS removed the mask requirement and made it a recommendation and we followed suit. If everything's the same on August 24th, as it is now, then you can make a reasonable guess that the school year would operate as normal except for the requirements listed above. But, decisions are always being made. I cannot guarantee that the CDC, MDHHS, or the ICHD will not make a decision before or during the school year that would increase the COVID protocol requirements. The district's plan is to return to as much normalcy as legally allowed for next school year. But, there may be uncontrolled spread, outbreaks, or safety concerns that will cause us to adjust.
How will the district handle COVID protocols differently next school year?
Last year we started the year with almost all of our COVID protocols in place assuming the worst and then reduced as the school year went on. This upcoming year we will start with minimal COVID protocols and increase if the need arises. Those decisions will be made when required by MDHHS and the ICHD. We will continue to advocate for what is best for our students and staff as these decisions are being made.
Will there be COVID related disruptions to education next year?
I think it is safe to say that we know that there will be some interruptions to learning next year. The district will do its best to keep those disruptions to a minimum. It is reasonable to think that we will have COVID cases that will result in both recommended and required quarantines. The district will be ready to support those students when this happens.
Are face masks required at school?
Currently face masks are recommended and not required by the CDC, MDHHS, and ICHD. Because face masks are recommended, they will encourage wearing face masks but they will be optional for PPS students and staff. If MDHHS or the ICHD change the mask recommendation to a requirement then PPS will be required to follow that order. Currently all staff and students on district transportation are required to wear a face mask. That requirement comes from the CDC and may change before the start of the school year.
Will Portland require staff or students to get the COVID-19 vaccine to attend school?
No. The district will not require staff or student COVID vaccination to attend school. The district also does not take a side on the promotion of COVID vaccination. COVID vaccination decisions are family decisions and the district does not encourage or discourage these decisions. We will continue to work with local agencies to send communication about vaccination clinics. It is the family's decision on whether to attend those clinics.
Will Portland require students to be tested for COVID-19 to attend school?
Will student-athletes be required to be tested for COVID-19 to participate?
No, MDHHS and MHSAA lifted all requirements for student-athlete testing on June 22, 2021.
Will there be a virtual option for next school year?
We will not offer a K - 6 virtual option for next school year. PPS does have a virtual school and any family in grades 7 -12 who would like virtual education should contact PACE about enrollment. Please contact Mr. Deardorff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, all of our students should plan to return to in-person for next school year.
What if my K-6 student cannot return to in-person learning next year?
We do understand that some families have specific medical concerns that would prevent returning to in-person next school year. If your family is in this situation please contact me directly. We want to support your child and may be able to provide alternative options for next year. Contact email@example.com
Will we have a “phased start” to next school year?
Last school year we started with only one grade per building for the first three days of school. We did this to help our students and staff learn the new protocols for the start of the year. We will not have the same phased start as last year but we will start the first day of school, August 24th, with only DK/K, 3rd, 6th, and 9th grade students. These students are new to their building and this new version of a phased-in start will allow us to work with those students so that they are comfortable in their new environment. All other students will start on August 25th. You can view the 2021-2022 school year calendar on our website at: https://www.portlandk12.org/docs/district/2021-2022%20portland%20public%20schools%20parent%20calendar.pdf?id=4683
Will all districts in the State have the same approach to next school year?
No. Some districts, even those close to Portland, will have different COVID protocols than us in the fall. As we gain back more of our local control, districts will need to make decisions on what recommendations to adopt based on what is best for their community. The decisions we make will be for Portland and the decisions other schools make will be for their community. Please know this as you look at social media, watch or read the news, or listen to the rumor mill. Just because one district is doing it doesn’t mean all districts are doing the same. The one exception is when it is determined to be required by the CDC, MDHHS, and ICHD.
Will student breakfast and lunch offerings continue to be “free” during the 2021/2022 school year?
The Federal Government will continue to underwrite the cost to provide breakfast and lunch to students free of charge. A La carte items (i.e., cookies, chips, bottles of water, etc.) will have to be purchased through students’ established pre-paid food service accounts. Even though breakfasts and lunches will be provided free, it is critically important that families that qualify for what is normally referred to as the Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program, apply for this program because the District receives additional Federal money for reading and math, at-risk student, and English Language Learning support based on the percentage of approved district applications. Please send any food service questions to Mr. Pell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who are the decision makers?
This came up often this previous year. It is important to point out that the district is limited on what we can and cannot do when public health is a concern. We are required, by law, to follow the requirements set forth by the CDC, MDHHS, and ICHD. Those agencies produce both requirements and recommendations. Last school year the district only adopted the requirements established by these governmental agencies. As COVID cases decreased in the spring and requirements became recommendations, the district followed suit by removing those requirements within the district. When we look at what next year will bring, we need to remember that the district’s role is to figure out how to successfully implement the requirements, not to make the requirements. This can be frustrating as decisions are often made for all school districts in the State or all school districts in the county without looking at what is best for Portland students.
Does Portland have a say in these decisions?
We have done what we can to keep up with the constant changes by State and Federal agencies. These changes are often confusing and/or conflicting with other agency requirements. Our influence on decision-making decreases the further the agency is away from Portland. We continue to work with agencies outside of our district on what is best for our students and staff. Our relationship with our local health department is solid and they are always willing to listen and work with us to solve problems. As we move to the State and then the Federal government those talks are not always as open. When these agencies make requirements for school districts we are required to implement them and our School Board and staff cannot ignore these requirements. Our goal is to implement these requirements in a way that allows us to continue student instruction with the least impact to our students but also keeping the intent of the requirement. I am proud of the efforts that we have made as a county. Ionia county districts were able to show other communities how to successfully run school during a pandemic; needless to say, not all districts are in the same position as us.
As new information becomes available or new decisions are made, I will notify you.
See you all soon!
Portland Public Schools