An Open Letter to Staff and Residents of the West Chester Area School District

An Open Letter to Staff and Residents of the West Chester Area School District

Recently Dr. Scanlon gave a presentation along with the recommendation to start the school year with children being at home with full remote learning.

First, let me start off by saying that the last thing I want to do is make this a personal attack on Dr. Scanlon or the Task Force. I know it’s easy to sit back after the fact and criticize decisions after they are made, but my concern isn’t the decision that was made as much as HOW it was made. 

What was the ultimate driving force in going 100% remote?  There are reasons listed in the online PowerPoint presentation – Safety of the Students and Staff being the top priority, which I agree with 100%. My question is, what is the threat to students and staff?

Yes, I know the easy answer is COVID-19. But WHAT is the threat? Is it contracting the virus? Is it dying from it? Something else? The threat wasn’t laid out in the presentation. To come up with a solution, shouldn’t a clear threat be determined first?

This ultimately led to me looking into the threat, myself.  As many of you know, the CDC has statistics that are updated regularly. As of writing this, there have been 244 COVID-19 related deaths in the US for those who are 24 and under between February and July of this year.  19 of them were 5-14 years old. So I will ask again, what is the threat?

For context, in 2018 (the latest year available) there were 1,090 drownings in the US for ages 24 and under. The first 8 months (April to November of 2009) of the H1N1 flu also led to 1,090 deaths, but in the 17 and under age range.

The results show that there is little to no threat from COVID-19 directly for school-aged children, but what about teachers? The National Center for Education Statistics says that the average age of teachers in the US is 42 years old. 85% of teachers in PA are 54 or under.

For the same six month period as previously cited, 10,717 deaths related to COVID-19 were 54 and under. Yes, that is a more significant number than school age kids, but let’s add some context. In all of 2018 there were 24,583 deaths from car accidents in US for the 54 and under age group. The “regular” flu has been floated around as a comparison to COVID-19.

READ:  NIH Licenses COVID-19 Research Tools and Early-Stage Technologies to WHO Program

The statistics, however, are not as clear from the CDC. Due to multiple factors, the CDC lists between 6,059 and 24,558 deaths from the flu in the 2017/18 flu season.

I don’t mean to sound heartless here.  Any death is sad. But leadership and emotion do not go hand in hand. Compassion is essential to being a leader, but emotion can negatively effect a leader’s ability to make decisions. 

An important part of leadership is risk assessment. As parents, we do this every day.  My wife and I are lucky to have a pool at our house. The 1,090 drownings are a constant concern for us, but it’s not enough for us to choose to not use it.

We have weighed the benefits vs the risk and have chosen to let our kids use our pool as many other parents do as well every year. The same thing is true for the teachers here in PA who choose to complete errands and trips with the use of a vehicle.

You do so knowing about the 24,583 deaths that occurred in 2018. None of us lock ourselves in our houses when flu season comes around and fixate on the “possible 24,558” deaths. It’s a risk assessment.

So what are we assessing here?  Is the threat still COVID-19? At what point does the threat become something else?

Robert Redfield, the CDC Director, when asked about the financial impact on schools opening during the pandemic, said on July 14th But there has been another cost that we’ve seen, particularly in high schools. We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We’re seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID.

According to the CDC, in 2018 there were 8,020 suicides committed by 15-24-year-olds. At this point, he is saying we should expect that to go up this year.

READ:  NIH Licenses COVID-19 Research Tools and Early-Stage Technologies to WHO Program

The point I am trying to make here is that, after reading the presentation provided by the West Chester Area School District, I don’t feel that there is a clear indication of the threat. Is it strictly limiting the amount of positive cases of COVID-19? Is this even the responsibility of the school district?

According to the presentation, 80.5% of 8,022 parents surveyed said they preferred some sort of “Brick and Mortar” option. When 700 staff members were asked how concerned they were with having adequate training to provide remote learning, more than half – 55% said they had at least some kind of concern.

Why go with the full remote with those results? Better yet, why even survey the parents and staff in the first place? The presentation even notes that “This option presents significant educational challenges as well as challenges for parents” when referring to the full remote model.

 Keeping the schools closed will prevent COVID-19 from spreading in the schools, yes. Just as staying home prevents the virus from spreading in general. But this virus isn’t going anywhere for quite a while.

Dr. Scanlon recommended reevaluating in November, but what do we expect to change by November? Realistically there won’t be a vaccine available until mid-2021. A full lockdown has been disastrous for our economy, and the virus was there waiting for us as soon as we reopened.  What has worked? Common sense. We need to look at what has taken place over the last six months and apply that.

Did you know that, during the lockdowns, the YMCA has cared for up to 40,000 children of front line workers between the ages of 1 and 14 at 1,100 separate sites? The state of Pennsylvania, according to the presentation, has said “…this must be a local decision” and that schools “must be the ones to make these choices and accept responsibility for the plan” which I applaud. 

This is the very definition of subsidiarity.  We have the ability to look at our own community and decide what works best for us.

READ:  NIH Licenses COVID-19 Research Tools and Early-Stage Technologies to WHO Program

So what works best? Allowing our children to return to schools, in person. Use risk assessment and common sense together and acknowledge the numbers. Who is at highest risk? Who is at lowest risk? Do we decide to let our kids swim in the pool? Do teachers risk driving their cars? How many of us have gone to the supermarket? How about going to restaurants?

We are living our lives. We aren’t being reckless. Nobody WANTS to develop this virus but all of us have accepted that it is here and we cannot hide from it. We are assessing the risks. Allow our kids to go back to school, or if not – give us a better explanation as to why they aren’t aside from “increasing pressure from many audiences”.

People are emotional, they are afraid, but again – leadership isn’t about emotion. Have compassion, but lead by making logical, informed decisions. A full Cyber program was already going to be an option for this upcoming school year, so let the parents decide between sending the kids back or keeping them at home.

Let families decide on how best to protect the most at risk. 108,214 out of the 135,579 deaths that have occurred from COVID-19 at the time of writing this were over the age of 65. That’s 80%. That is who we should be focused on protecting.

A community is made up of individual components. All are equally important. All are equally ESSENTIAL. Grocery stores are essential. Banks are essential. Salons and barber shops are essential. Restaurants are essential. Churches are essential. Schools are essential. Without all of these, we are not a community.

 It’s time to show our children that they are essential, too.

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27 Comments on “An Open Letter to Staff and Residents of the West Chester Area School District”

  1. Good for you not being not being emotional. Have you seen the pictures of the leaders working on the front lines especially ICU workers? They are exhausted physically and emotionally. I suggest we follow the lead of the Europeans who followed our protocols which most Americans do not follow and were able to reduce numbers to reasonably open schools. When the numbers are down ( and not just the curve flattened) maybe then we reconsider opening schools. Chester County numbers are currently rising. Let us not follow Israel who opened schools too early and Pandora’s box with Covid 19 raising its ugly head. And the 80% of old people with underlying conditions? I understand you were just giving us the unemotional facts but honestly your unemotional testimony is chilling.

  2. Are you high? You sound like your either too self centered to think about others or you’re too stupid to understand the consequences. Either way I’m sure your kids hate you as much as you hate them.

    1. Your kids probably hate you base on how you responded here. Shows how kind of a person you are. Data is important, and is backed by Science. People who took Social Studies as a degree or who watches to much CNN won’t understand the statistic.

  3. Are the kids in your fantasy world all living in adult-free bubbles and raising themselves or something?

    1) Kids will get sick and bring the illness home to their parents, who have a much higher risk of suffering permanent organ damage and dying. Kids will then have the risk of growing up without one or both of their parents, with parents who are permanently disabled, or parents with reduced lifespans.

    2) Even though children are not at high risk of *dying* from Covid-19, if they get ill, they will still suffer under the illness and will still run the risk of being left with permanent organ damage themselves. Their quality of life and their lifespans will be reduced.

  4. First and foremost, this is an important issue worth having a frank discussion. Second, regarding school opening, I do not believe there is decision that will make everyone happy. The article is well written but uses misleading arguments. For instance, COVID-19 is compared with drowning. The risk externality between the two are different. In COVID-19 people’s actions have consequences for others while not for drowning. The risk is not mainly for the kids, but for others in others in our community. Deborah Birx’s story illustrates this well. During the 1918 pandemic, Birx’s grandmother came home with the Spanish flu, and ended up passing it on to Birx’s great-grandmother, who had recently given birth. Birx said her grandmother lived with the guilt of this her entire life and “never forgot that she was the child that was in school that innocently brought that flu home.” That is what we want to avoid.

    It is stated that “But this virus isn’t going anywhere for quite a while.” True, but we will have vaccines and treatment sometimes soon. That will change the whole dynamics. What the WCASD is doing is a gap stop measure until vaccine and treatment are available. I worked in drug development my whole life and I am sure of that. To sum, I quote Churchill: “democracy is the worst form of Government except all other forms…” Yes the WCASD decision is the worst except all the other options are worse.

  5. Thanks for your well stated summary and review of the dangers and risks that need to be considered in managing our response to COVID. The numbers do tell a compelling story that, unfortunately, is not widely understood nor clearly communicated in the media. Although the rate of transmission may be high, the risk of sickness is low. While we should take measures to protect against the spread of this virus and to promote the overall health and welfare of our community, lockdown of our way of life is not the answer. There is plenty of evidence that shows that lockdowns have been largely ineffective. Remote learning is the educational version of a lockdown. It, too, is ineffective and will have long term consequences that will have much greater impact than this virus. Please open our Schools.

  6. Numbers are wonderful; they tell a great story that we would traditionally follow. Our children are essential and it is up to all of us to keep them safe.

  7. So many of these people negate that most European countries (the Netherlands for example) don’t necessitate social distancing AT ALL. What to wearing a mask ONLY IF 6 FEET CAN’T be maintained? With masks the spread is minimal- all these snowflake adults only want to induce depression onto this generation, which is expendable to them.

  8. Some of these emotion-based comments to this well-reasoned and logical open letter are quite telling. The point of comparisons to the ‘regular’ flu or drowning is to show that we always accept some level of risk to live our lives.

    Thousands of children die from the flu every year, and likely many children bring home the flu to give it to their parents/grandparents at home, who later die from it. Yet, we don’t do anything special for the flu; we let it run its natural course every Winter just because we are used to the death it brings. COVID-19, by all statistics and research is less deadly than the flu for children and young adults (<40), but we cower in fear and make irrational decisions based on emotion.

    We have already done irreparable damage to the economy and saddled our children with fear, anxiety, and disruption to their lives. Our children will be the ones paying for the damage we do to the economy, not the 70+ year old individuals who face the greatest physical threat from this disease. Moreover, it's always the poor among us that bear the greatest cost: It's easy for wealthy parents with work-from-home capable jobs and time/resources to pay for childcare and additional education to push for locking down. Meanwhile, the families struggling to make ends meet lose their service jobs, and are now without childcare during the workday.

    Fear is not a plan. Vague, ill-defined metrics and playing 'wait and see' are not helpful or a substitute for real leadership.

  9. I hear schools are always looking for volunteers. Everyone wants to send my family to work with the plague rats that children are, but are they willing to go be exposed? Probably not.

    1. Geez! You need to get a different career …. and definitely not around children, since you consider them “plague rats”.

  10. Use your brain here people, there can never be NO RISK in an action, at some point the risk is acceptable and you move forward. Kids need to learn in person. Online may serve the needs of a few but certainly not the majority. Compound that with the effect on parents working, etc and it makes very little sense to me.
    Your kids are cleared by PIAA to play sports, they’ve had open swimming pools all summer, played club sports, open beaches, socialized with friends, been to target, Home Depot, cvs, giant and countless other public places in contact with people we’ve all seen who don’t wear masks , social distance or give a crap about the “rules”. Keeping them out of school does more harm than the disease you’re trying to protect them from.
    Is this disease bad ? You bet, so is meningitis, cancer and a lot of other crap but we live our lives and take the appropriate precautions as best we can. Stop trying to control what you have no control over.

    1. Yes! thank you! nobody uses their brains anymore. I had posted this article to my schools facebook page and I can’t say people have found it agreeable. But it’s true camps, daycare and outdoor sports have been running all summer long. Our cases are low. This is completely political.

  11. There have actually been far more pediatric deaths from COVID-19 than your presentation indicates. Concerns stem from both teachers, staff, and students spreading and becoming ill, with the very real possibility of death or lifelong complications from illness.

    Allow me to elaborate:

    Before we get into numbers, let’s address one thing: COVID 19 is a serious threat to public health for three core reasons:
    1)No vaccine or effective treatment
    2)The high degree of easy spread among the community, making it difficult to quash
    3) The severity of symptoms, and fallout of symptoms that can last months, in addition to related disorders such as the post-COVID inflammatory disorder in children which left a local Exton, pa student in a coma, throughout his recovery.

    That is the threat.

    Now, the numbers. Into the beginning of July, tracking the pandemic, 4.85 percent of the 241,904 children cases resulted in hospitalization- which is 11,732 children hospitalized due to severe COVID 19 symptoms. In that same time span, pediatric deaths averaged at .1 percent, which is 241 children dead of COVID 19.

    Many like to say that children do not spread it as effectively, however, there are conflicting studies indicating that they do spread it as effectively as adults, and children may spread it even more effectively than adults. The fact is: we don’t have enough information to be able to keep staff and students safe. The threat is there, and we are currently unable to effectively mitigate that threat, making it unconscionable to gather groups of people in said circumstances.

    Many people also like to bring up the worst flu season’s on record, so let’s address that. In 2017-2018 flu had 183 deaths in children. 2018-2019 flu had 116 deaths in children.

    These seasons typically last four months and vaccines and treatments are available. We are in the estimated 8th month, with no end in sight, further suspicious post-COVID 19 inflammatory diseases presenting in children, and an increase in overall case numbers.

    Kids are not immune. The fact that schools have been closed have kept approximately 52 million spreaders out of large groups in enclosed spaces. There is not enough research to support that upon returning to the said environment, they will not then become a larger percent of the infected, hospitalized, and dead. The most honest of doctors have come out and said that teachers will get COVID 19 when schools reopen. Schools that are reopening are indicating it is a matter of when they will close because someone got sick, not if. If this is how we are talking, we are willingly placing staff and students in an environment that risks their physical health as well as their emotional well being.

    Schools will not be as they were before we closed. The psychological impact of social distancing, independent work only, staggered lunches, and mask-wearing compliance for eight hours tends to be disregarded when discussing the value of social-emotional time with peers and mental health issues when buildings are closed. The mitigating factors that would only be most effective if cases were drastically low (such as in other countries that reopened schools with some success) are not going to be the same school your children once knew. No matter how we begin school sessions, there will be an impact on social-emotional health and mental health as we are amid a pandemic that is changing our way of life. With case numbers rising, and no other countries opening schools with such a trend, why would we add risk to physical health, as well?

    In schools attempting reopening, such as Indiana, there have been COVID cases immediately, resulting in quarantining of staff, and students alike. This creates additional staffing concerns as if you must quarantine who will teach your students? Likely a substitute teacher that may or may not have experience in that area.

    Contrary to statements made, online schooling is not homeschooling. The teachers are making and distributing assignments, and working with students. What occurred in the spring of 2020 was an emergency online learning plan for most schools. Going into the fall, there has been time to train teachers and prepare a robust online version of the in-school classroom. I have homeschooled before. You are not homeschooling.

    Now let’s talk about adults because your kids don’t teach themselves. January to May (4 months) 1.3 million cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and 83,000 COVID-19–associated deaths were reported in the United States. I use four months because that is typically the length of a flu season so that the comparison is fair. A big fact I hear in response is that the 2017-18 flu season had 45 million infections. This is true. Although testing for COVID has barely caught up that is still a large number. This is still true.

    However, out of 45 million infections, there were 61,000 deaths. That is a fatality rate of .00136 for flu in 2017-18. In the same time period of four months, out of 1.3 million cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), there were 83,000 COVID-19–associated deaths marks a fatality rate of .06.

    That is 47 times higher.

    Lastly, I hear the argument about other pandemics being worse or equivalent.

    Let’s address that:
    SARS infections in USA: 73
    MERS infections in USA: 2
    Swine Flu infections in USA: approximated at 1 million (pandemic listed as lasting 19 months)

    Current USA COVID Infections: 4.11 million in 7 months

    10x more fatal than swine flu, drastically higher infection rates than SARS, and we’re still not over it.

    Schools are making the best decision with the information that they have. In areas where cases are on the rise, having children at home is not an ideal solution, but it may be the only one.

    1. False. The CDC and WHO’s own data bear out the infinitesimally small risk to the school age group. If we move teachers over 55 to administrative roles and the kids and their families avoid contact with high risk individuals, a return to in person teaching FAR outweighs the risks. Life has risks. Get over it.

      1. Independent of the fact that households may contain people at risk, and that administrative roles do not work that way…. at all- the facts presented are not false. You may disagree with the implications of said facts but they are in fact, facts. Simply saying false does not render them so.

        All of my statistics came from official publications by both the CDC, WHO, NIH and the American Academy of Pediactricts. To illustrate the most updated information, the mortalityand hospitalization rate for children as updated on July 30 has actually increased since the July 9th data, with a 40% increase in child cases in the last two weeks.

        (See services.aap.org)

        These are all the actual numbers and my analysis is based thereupon unlike a deceptively blanket statement of “infintesimally small”. While you are responding emotionally, I am responding with data.

        Life has risks, but unless you can effectively mitigate them you cannot willfully place children in harms way. There is a reason vaccines are required in a public school to preserve public health of students in their care.

        In areas where cases are rising and they cannot be safely mitigated they are keeping buildings closed. They plan to reassess when case numbers are low. This is actually reinforced by CDCs own reporting of areas that have had success reopening schools.

        As per the CDC’s own statement, “International studies that have assessed how readily COVID-19 spreads in schools also reveal low rates of transmission when community transmission is low. Based on current data, the rate of infection among younger school children, and from students to teachers, has been low, especially if proper precautions are followed.”

        The crux of this is that studies indicating low transmission are in areas where community transmission is low. There are many areas, Chester County is one of them, where that is not yet the case. Therefore, you cannot assume that the same trend will hold true when community transmission is not low.

        Making summations and ignoring factual data is causing too much misinformation, like the coronavirus, to spread.

      2. People need to make decisions on these facts and risk. If you don’t want the risk, stay home. If you live with an elderly person, stay home. If you don’t want to teach kids, teach cyber or take a sabbatical. People want choice of their own risk. It is a sad day when China gets their kids in front of a teacher, but the US isn’t willing to even try. My coworker lost their 7 yr old to the flu in Feb. my sons friend ended up in a coma this year from the flu and my other friends 20 month old died in his crib for unknown reasons. The way people are acting is all these deaths don’t matter because it wasn’t Covid. People lose loved ones every day. Why is the grief from Covid worse than others? Because it is new? Death and lose is a part of life. We can’t hide. Most parents don’t even want to give their kid the new vaccine. Then what? What is your definition of low? Positivity rate, hospitalizations, death? Nobody is answering this? Chester County is around 5.3% (7/30) with the case count dropping this week. Surgeon General said 10%, WHO says 5%. We are not a hot spot.

      3. The metrics have been released and right now all of Chesco is considered high transmission which recommends hybrid or online learning if physical measures cannot be made, which most schools are unable to. Teachers can’t just all quit because they’re not willing to have parents bully schools into opening unsafely out of convenience. Containing a public health crisis is not about being able to choose.

  12. It isn’t fair to compare swimming pool deaths to deaths due to a global pandemic. Drownings don’t increase exponentially. The reason we say that an internet meme “went viral” when it spread rapidly is because that is what viruses do.

  13. It’s opinions and attitudes like this that have resulted in 160,000 dead Americans. What is the risk you ask? Only an uninformed, easily led idiot would ask that. People like you will escape unscathed while innocents pay the price.

  14. Bravo! Well written unemotional fact-based argument. It is all very simple – It should be the families choice whether to send their children back to school under the current health guidelines – they know what is best for their childern and family. It is each teacher’s choice if they want to go back to work in the schools. It is every individuals choice whether they want to come out of their homes during the pandemic. Everyone has a choice with some consequences based on their beliefs and risk factors.

  15. Great piece Mr. Danzi. You’re spot on in your analysis. School districts seem to start from the premise that Covid-19 is a death sentence, which is not based in fact or reality. The “guidance” provided by the PA Department of Health, the PA Department of Education and other governmental organizations is tinged with politics. There are plenty of credentialed, well reasoned medical and scientific reports that provide plenty of evidence in support of full day, full week in person instruction. It’s disturbing to see how many people are willing to become sheep, wear a mask everywhere they go and accept political opinion as “facts” that we all must accept.

  16. Did anyone else just get the email today from Sara Missett, Director of Elementary & Gifted Education, WCASD? When school begins this fall WCASD is offering childcare in partnership with A Child’s Place, 5 days a week in-person child care with meals being provided to all district families, for a fee. Where is this taking place? Where else, in all of our elementary schools. Yes, in the same schools they have now kicked our children out of due to “safety for children and teachers.” Absolutely shocking. My children can not attend for education purpose but they can attend 5 days a week in person and buy breakfasts and lunches, but only for childcare purposes. Spread the word.

    Here is the email:

    Good Afternoon West Chester Area School District Families,

    I hope this email finds you well and enjoying the remaining weeks of summer. We recognize that a fully virtual school reopening may present childcare challenges for some of our families, and we have been working to provide options to help.
    The WCASD is offering childcare in partnership with A Child’s Place (ACP) for students in kindergarten through 7th grade. ACP has been providing before and aftercare programs in the WCASD since 2012. This option is open to any of our families, regardless of which instructional program they have chosen. This option will remain in place while we are operating virtually and is expected to continue operating in some capacity when students return to in-person school.

    ACP is offering the following options, and registration is required by August 17:
    5 Days/Week for the Instructional Day only (8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.) $175 per week/per child
    2 – 3 Days/Week for Instructional Day only (8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.) $125 per week/per child
    5 Days/Week – Extended Day + Instructional Day (7:30 a.m. drop-off / 5:30 p.m. pickup) $50 additional charge per week/per child 
    2 – 3 Days/Week – Extended Day + Instructional Day (7:30 a.m. drop-off/ 5:30 p.m. pickup) $30 additional charge per week/per child 
    Meals will also be available for purchase:
    Breakfast only – $1.75 per child/per day
    Breakfast & lunch – $4.25 per child/per day
    Lunch only – $2.75 per child/ per day
    Breakfast, lunch, & snack – $4.50 per child/per day

    The program will operate out of East Bradford, East Goshen, Exton, Fern Hill, and Penn Wood Elementary Schools. If your child is enrolled in any of our elementary or middle schools, they can attend ACP’s services at these schools. You can discuss a preference for a school setting by contacting ACP. ACP staff will supervise the virtual school day in a small group environment, under current health and safety guidelines. ACP staff are not intended to replace your child’s WCASD teacher. 

    Please read A Child’s Place & WCASD Reopening Child Care Plan or visit our district website for full program details. ACP is a sub-contractor of the school district. They have their own health and safety plan and their own staff. Student groups will be able to spread out throughout the schools, and ACP will be following social distancing and other safety guidelines. Students and staff must wear masks, and student cohorts will be kept together.

    Any questions about A Child’s Place program for 2020-21 should be directed to Catie Garofalo at [email protected] or 610-687-4999.
    We have also gathered a comprehensive list of local daycare facilities for additional options. Some of them are offering to supervise student learning in small groups.

    We remain committed to returning students to the classroom once metrics indicate we are able do so. We hope this childcare option will help alleviate some of the challenges a virtual reopening presents.

    Thank you for your continued support of our schools.

    Sara
    Sara M. Missett, Ed.D.
    Director of Elementary and Gifted Education
    Spellman Administration Building
    484-266-1009

  17. Transmission maybe high but getting sick and dying from the virus is low. What I don’t understand why the people who decided to do remote learning didn’t take into account the age of little kids. Little kids are easily distracted and bored. Imagine staring at the iPad for 6 hours. I don’t think this is very effective for little kids to learn. Also, parents can’t go to work because they have to help their little kids every now and then to do things. Funny, that they allow before and after Daycare though, which doesn’t make sense to me.

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