Schools in the Philadelphia region grapple with COVID concerns as students get set to return

Plans remain fluid for so many districts because of classroom size, vaccination rates, and community spread numbers.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- School districts across the Philadelphia region are making decisions about their next steps with COVID case counts rising and students returning to the classroom.

Each school district must come up with a safety plan to welcome students back to school. Many are relying on COVID-19 case counts to make these tough decisions on masks and vaccinations.

Worried about the delta variant, April Smith is getting her 10th grader, Tymir, vaccinated at a pop-up clinic inside West Philadelphia High school.

"That scares me to death," said Smith.

The Philadephia School District is returning to full-time in-person learning on August 30. It does not have a vaccine mandate for teachers, staff or students, but masks are required for all.

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The delta variant is continuing to spread in the U.S., but the FDA approval for the Pfizer vaccine is possibly weeks away.

In Upper Merion, Montgomery County, the school board voted unanimously to require all teachers and staff to show proof of vaccination or get tested twice a week and wear masks.

"Masks are voluntary amongst our other students and vaccinated staff members. However, that could very well change," said Dr. John Toleno, Superintendant Upper Merion Schools.

"Montgomery County has recently been put in the substantial range, so that could be a problem," said Dr. Toleno.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Daniel McGarry of Upper Darby School District in Delaware County, says because of the delta variant and substantial community spread status, they've revised masking rules.

The school district has reversed course on its initial plans announced in July.

"We felt that 11-year-olds and under were most vulnerable to open schools. Since we made that announcement, obviously things have changed. Delaware County is in substantial, and we discussed with our board as a part of our health plan, if we were moving in that direction, we would require masking of all," said Dr. Daniel McGarry.

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Masks are still optional across the Central Bucks School District. Bucks County falls under substantial COVID transmission rates as well.

Plans remain fluid for so many districts because of classroom size, vaccination rates, and community spread numbers.

"Each and every school district will be different. Their circumstances will be different. The population may be vaccinated more so in one community than another," said Dr. McGarry.

The CDC recommends all students and staff wear masks in schools in areas of high or substantial transmission. That includes Philadelphia and all surrounding counties except Chester County.
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