COUNCIL ROCK >> The Council Rock School District will begin the new school year with a face mask optional approach under a health and safety plan adopted by the school board in May.
At the August 5 school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Robert Fraser reinforced his May recommendation not to require masking for students based on guidance provided by Dr. David Damsker, the director of the Bucks County Health Department.
“I haven’t always been completely on board with some of Dr. Damsker’s recommendations, especially when those recommendations have differed from some of the other health organizations and agencies,” said Fraser. “The reality, though, as I look back with the clarity that 2020 hindsight provides, is that Dr. Damsker has been right a lot more than not. Dr. Damsker has earned, in my eyes, a great deal of credibility and, as we continue to work to make decisions in the best interest of our students, a great deal of trust, which is critically important.
“Doing what’s best for students and adults has not been easy to determine, especially given the competing guidance we’ve been given along the way,” added Fraser. “I continue to trust Dr. Damsker’s guidance. I also sense that this board - as a whole - stands behind its May 20th vote.”
According to Fraser, Dr. Damsker recently shared with him the results of two major studies, both of which showed among hospitalized kids who tested positive for COVID-19 that almost half were asymptomatic and only 15 percent were deemed to be significantly symptomatic.
“To quote Dr. Damsker, ‘The true risk of symptomatic hospitalization of children is minuscule.’ In my opinion, when you think about that coupled with the learning loss that we know occurred here and elsewhere, coupled with the social and emotional piece, all of that has to be weighed out. That’s what I’ve done,” said Fraser.
The announcement comes as the Delta variant is on an upswing across the nation and the CDC is recommending the masking of all school children, teachers, staff and visitors (K to 12) this fall regardless of immunization status.
It also comes as district parents from both sides of the masking issue have been rallying support through social media, online petition drives and attendance at the August 5 school board meeting.
A large turnout of parents at the August 5 school board meeting prompted Dr. Fraser to note, “This might be a record crowd for August. I like it.”
During the meeting, more than 30 residents spoke on both sides of the issue with one side arguing for choice and the other for health and safety.
In addition to the mask optional policy, Fraser reminded district parents that Council Rock would not be offering a virtual option this year.
“We were prepared to offer a full cyber academy at the elementary level, but the reality is that when we did the registration process we only had about one percent of our elementary students being registered and we just couldn’t run the program in a fiscally responsible way,” said Fraser. “And you couple that with the fact that we know it’s best for kids to be in the classroom with their classmates and with their teachers.”
What will happen, said Fraser, is that school will reopen on Monday, August 30 with a mask optional approach.
“When we open school I expect to see some students wearing masks. And I expect to see some students not wearing masks. And it’s all okay,” he said. “If you want to wear it, great. If you don’t want to wear it don’t. Both approaches are perfectly legitimate and equally valued.”
Fraser said when he’s around the kids he will be wearing a mask “because I don’t want any student to feel uncomfortable wearing a mask. If they know it’s not required and their friends aren’t wearing one, maybe if they see me and others like me wearing one then maybe it makes them feel more comfortable doing so. To me, that’s a basic part of being an inclusive and a kind community.
“It’s incredibly important for all students to feel welcome in our schools, to feel valued in our schools and to feel that genuine sense of belonging,” said Fraser. “We all know there are many reasons why a student may not feel that way, and from where I sit, as the Council Rock community, I asked that we all do our part to make sure that wearing a mask or not wearing a mask doesn’t become a reason for any student to feel unwelcome, devalued or like they don’t belong while they are at school. If we can come together and do so we will do something that will be pretty impressive.
“As part of the CR community, we can assure that our schools here are inclusive and they are simply kind and friendly places to be for all kids,” he added.
Looking ahead to the coming school year, Fraser said the district is moving forward in a positive direction.
“We’re going to focus this year on some of the learning loss that occurred with too many of our students over this past year plus. And we’re going to focus our energies and attention on the social and emotional needs of our students, which also deserve and require a great deal of attention.”
In addition, Fraser said the district will be engaging in some academic program reviews this year “for the sake of strengthening those academic offerings to our students and how we do and can best deliver them.
“Now don’t get me wrong,” he added. “We are not of the mindset that this pandemic is over because we know it’s not. And yet we will continue to be mindful of the fact that some of our students have not yet had the opportunity to be vaccinated.
“As adults we will bend over backwards to help keep our kids stay safe and healthy because that’s what we do here, but you can and you should expect to see our schools and our classrooms look and feel very much like they did in February 2020.
“As a district we are re-centering individually and re-centering collectively and we are refocusing on the fundamentals of how we best serve the awesome kids who are our CR students,” said Fraser.
“From teaching and learning to extracurriculars to all the ancillary service that we offer we’re going to re-center, re-focus on the fundamentals to make sure we do the absolute best work that we can with our awesome students.”