Important School Closure & Coronavirus Information - Updated March 24, 2020

 
 
 
 
 
Superintendent's Board Report - March 25, 2020

Good evening. I hope you and your family are well as we navigate through these challenging times.

As you know, on March 23rd, Governor Wolf issued a stay at home order for Bucks County. As such, all Pennsylvania schools must now remain closed through at least April 6th. Schools would reopen on April 7th and 8th to prepare for the possible return of students on Thursday, April 9th.  Since April 9th begins our spring break, our students would not actually return to school until Tuesday, April 14th. This is, of course, assuming that such a timeline remains in place.

Congratulations on our first virtual, remote board meeting. This reflects what we are living, doing things differently than we ever have. Thanks to our board for their agility and flexibility, and support during these times. Under the governor’s most recent order, we are permitted to continue our essential functions, including our proceedings tonight. These also include, but are not limited to, the "grab and go" meal distribution, support for our technology connectivity, and instructional work toward the development of online Learning Opportunities. 

I am profoundly grateful for all the work that has transpired over the last several weeks by our administrative team and teaching staff.  Also, a special thank you to our food service staff for preparing and handing out free “grab and go” meals. The free meals will continue throughout the closure.  Our operations group has worked tirelessly to sanitize and maintain our facilities.  The IT team continues to support mission critical and essential functions including the providing the tools and support to conduct tonight’s meeting in accordance with respect to our current crisis. More information will be shared on our website at www.bensalemsd.org and on FaceBook and Twitter as it becomes available. 

On March 16th, our families received information related to Bensalem Learns. We have been preparing for increased educational opportunities for our students delivered by and with Bensalem teachers via online platforms beginning next Wednesday, April 1st. This, by no means, is a substitute for the experience our students receive through face to face instruction. It is an effort to maintain educational continuity for ALL students in the absence of being in the classroom. More information will be relayed to students and families in advance of April 1st. These communications will also include directions for families in need of a chrome book to connect with us. 

Please know that we are being thoughtful about how we will assess student progress, advance students to next levels, how everything about what we do and how we do it may now be temporarily different. These are all works in progress and must be considerate of law and connections to many things beyond our jurisdiction, and control. Let me be clear though, our primary concern is always and will continue to be the well-being of our students. 

We are especially sensitive to our seniors and transition grades, and what instruction will look like not just in the next few weeks but when we return. And we WILL return. There is NO substitute for the wonderful experience our students have with Bensalem teachers and Bensalem staff, in our Bensalem Schools.

We appreciate the support and patience of our wonderful community during these unique times. We are Bensalem Proud and Bensalem Strong! 

Samuel Lee, Ed.D.
District Superintendent 

_______________________________________

March 24, 2020

Dear Bensalem Township School District Parents/Guardians, Staff, and Community:

I hope that all is well. We appreciate everyone’s understanding, patience, and support as we begin week 2 of these unique times. As I am sure you are aware, Governor Wolf extended the school closure to at least April 6th.

Please know that we are here to support you. Our food service team provided 4,270 meals in 4 days last week. They will continue to provide food throughout the closures. Click Here for Information on Free Meals for Children

Our operations group continues to maintain our sites and properties, and sanitize our buildings. Educational staff continue to plan for continuity of education through online platforms. Additional information and details related to continued learning throughout the closure will be shared by early next week.

Our Information Technology team will be able to provide the tools for internet access for those in need. In the meantime, Bensalem Learns is a great tool for academic activities, enrichment, and virtual field trips.

Excellent resources for families have been posted to the District's website and I encourage you to review those resources.

Communication and collaboration is constant both internally and throughout our county, state, and region. There is much to share and we remain vigilant in accessing and reviewing information from Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bucks County Department of Health, Bucks County Intermediate Unit, Bensalem Township Police and Emergency Management, Bucks County Emergency Management, and United States Department of Education.

As you may be aware, state assessments have been cancelled this year.  This includes PSSA exams, PASA’s, and Keystone exams. The College Board has postponed SAT administration, but Advanced Placement (AP) exams will be online.  Click here for AP Exam information

We continue to review schedules, calendars related to cancellations, and postponements especially as it relates to Bensalem High School’s Class of 2020. Changes will be shared as they develop.

The safety, health, and welfare of our students, staff, and families remains the priority. Thank you for your flexibility and empathy exhibited and shared. We will all get through this!  

We are Bensalem Strong!

Samuel Lee, Ed.D.
District Superintendent

_______________________________________

March 13, 2020

Dear Bensalem Township School District Parents/Guardians, Staff, and Community:
At 11:45 AM today, the Bucks County Commissioners ordered a Declaration of Disaster Emergency and the activation of the county’s Emergency Management Center for support and to respond and coordinate efforts with local municipalities and other partners.
 
In close coordination with the superintendents of all Bucks County Public School Districts, the Executive Director of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, the Director of the Bucks County Health Department, the Director of Bucks County Emergency Management Services, and the Bucks County Commissioners, Bensalem Township School District will be closing effective Monday, March 16, 2020 through Sunday, March 29, 2020. This period of closure could be extended further, based on any number of rapidly changing variables.
 
It is possible that executive orders from either the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or the United States federal government will further expand upon or define this period of closure. At this time, this decision has not yet been officially mandated by either state or federal government authorities. This decision has, however, been fully discussed locally with all public school leaders and the appropriate county government officials.
 
This closure no doubt raises many more questions than answers. The district will work in full cooperation with local, state, and federal authorities to compile information and resources that speak to the closure and its impact on the community.
 
This decision was not made quickly or without significant reflection and discussion. In fact, the county’s school leaders have spent countless hours working in-district and across the county to evaluate the everchanging nature of the coronavirus pandemic. We worked to establish best practices following CDC guidelines, in partnership with the Bucks County Health Department and Emergency Management Services leaders, to limit social interactions in an effort to proactively protect against community transmission. We were hopeful that these measures would enable our district to remain open using social distancing, modifications to schedules, visitors, and other activities. With the Commonwealth of PA executive order yesterday that essentially shutdown neighboring Montgomery County, the impact on local school district daily operations has been substantial. A number of our staff live in Montgomery County, resulting in obvious difficulties for them to come to work. As a result, we will close on Monday, March 16th in anticipation of an unsafe work environment in our schools due to limited student supervision as a result of teacher and other staff absences. That was a risk we were not willing to take. In fact, on a call with the superintendents and county officials, the superintendents unanimously supported a countywide closure for all Bucks County public schools.
 
Therefore, Bensalem Township School District will cease providing all services to all children/students effective March 16th. This includes all special education and related services. All meetings, activities, athletics, and related school events are postponed and subject to reschedule or cancellation. No community use of the school facilities will be permitted during this time. No transportation will be provided. No before or after school childcare will be offered. Everything, in short, is cancelled or postponed.

School personnel and students are prohibited from entering school facilities; however, a limited number of essential staff may be able to perform essential functions such as running payroll, cleaning facilities, maintaining communication systems, and providing security as needed. This is to be determined.
 
All school district employees and contractors will be contacted shortly via email with additional information.

It is uncertain at this time, absent clear direction from the Commonwealth, about the status of these days and whether they will need to be made up in the future. As we learn more, I will continue to update you.

Please trust that the Bensalem Township School District is doing our best to keep everyone informed as new and additional information is received. If you have any questions, please send an e-mail to info@bensalemsd.org.
 
Sincerely,

Samuel Lee, Ed.D.
District Superintendent

 

 _______________________________________

March 12, 2020

Dear Bensalem Township School District Parents/Guardians, Staff, and Community: 

I write to you today as both District Superintendent and the parent of one school-age child. Bensalem Township School District remains vigilant in our attention and communication related to this current situation. We also remain agile and aware as information is constantly being presented. Cleaning, sanitizing, and focus on good hygiene continues. As you know there are 2 presumptive positive cases in Bucks County. This has raised many questions and concerns for our students, staff and families in Bensalem.  Additionally, recent decisions made by colleges and universities, major sporting associations, Governor Wolf related to Montgomery County, President Trump yesterday, and Ohio and Maryland closures heightened those concerns. 

Please know that as of now there are NO known cases in Bensalem.  Also, students are NOT at high risk to contract the virus. This may change.

In anticipation of this possibility and in collaboration with the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, all Bucks County School Districts, Dr. David Damsker, Director of Bucks Department of Health, Bucks County Emergency Management, and Bensalem Township Emergency Services continue to communicate, assess, seek counsel, and plan. This communication occurs daily in addition to our internal work such as attendance monitoring, communication with our nurses and personnel.

Yesterday, Dr. Damsker and representatives of the 13 Bucks County public school systems conducted a phone conference following the press conference delivered by Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. During her press conference, Dr. Levine stated, "We anticipate community spread cases to occur" in our state. Dr. Damsker also echoed the likelihood of this. Dr. Levine also went on to define "mitigation efforts" as measures that may minimize the spread of COVID-19 and stated that though the state is not mandating such measures, "we support mitigation efforts." 

As noted earlier, closing our schools will have a tremendous impact on our kids, families, community, instruction, labor and economic issues will be prevalent and cascading. The goal is to stay open, although community spread and inability to staff our buildings or provide instruction would prompt closure.

Our team has been considering these specific measures throughout the week and will continue to refine our specific directives to be shared with the Bensalem Township school community on Friday, March 13th. 

Our all hazards plan includes provisions for a pandemic event, what we may deal with here. We are reviewing our school events, community gatherings, field trips, student and staff travel, facilities use for outside groups, volunteer activities, athletic competitions, and co-curricular events.  We are also planning for maintenance of academic connection (continued academic engagement) in the event of closures, how extended closures relate to and effect our employees, and food service. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has just issued direction allowing for meals through our schools in a non-congregant setting (grab and go) in the event of closings.

Measures are likely to include, but may not be limited to:

• Enhanced cleaning procedures

• Travel restrictions

• Cancellation of community events hosted in our schools

• Flexibility of student and staff attendance

• Limited facility rentals for community groups

• Limited access for community members and volunteers

Please note that, at this time, there are no plans to cancel schools for an extended period of time. We will close if we have a positive case or a specific exposure, and only after careful consideration and coordination with the Pennsylvania and Bucks County Departments of Health. 

Additionally, we are following PIAA decisions pertaining to athletics. 

At this time, we have postponed the following:

• Snyder Middle School Spirit Night

• Shafer Middle School Ballroom Dancing

• High School Girls Basketball Banquet 

Other events not under our jurisdiction but impacting our students that have been postponed are: First Robotics and Bucks County Music Educators Association Festival. 

As this is an extremely fluid situation, we anticipate directives may need to shift, and we will continue to communicate our efforts to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 throughout the District and county.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has scheduled a webinar for school districts tomorrow. PDE is coordinating with the Governor’s Office, Department of Health and Emergency Management and wants to provide the best information and guidance.  Hopefully, this will usher in a period of regular communication and guidance for school districts and dialogue with district leaders. Please know that this communication and dialogue has been a constant for almost 2 weeks here in Bensalem and Bucks County. 

Additional information about COVID-19 can be found on the CDC Website  and the PA Dept of Health https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx.

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions. Things are developing rapidly and we will keep you informed.

Sincerely,

Samuel Lee, Ed.D.
District Superintendent

___________________________________

 

March 10, 2020

 

Dear Bensalem Township School District Parents/Guardians, Staff, and Community:

 

I am aware of the heightened anxiety and concern that is present in our families and the wider community at this time regarding the possible spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).  I want to assure you that our district remains committed to providing you with information to help in planning and preparing for a potential impact of this illness.

 

The Bucks County Intermediate Unit arranged a conference call with county officials to provide school entities with an update on the current state of the virus.  Participating in the call were Dr. David Damsker, Director of the Bucks County Health Department, Scott Forester, Director of Bucks County Emergency Management Services, Dr. Mark Hoffman, Executive Director of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, and superintendents and administrators from each of the thirteen school districts in the county. Here is what we learned:

 

Status of Current Cases of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in Pennsylvania

  • To date, there are eleven (11) presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania.
  • Counties impacted to-date include: Delaware (1); Monroe (1); Montgomery (8) and Wayne (1).
  • There are no diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Bucks County.
  • All eleven individuals who have been diagnosed in Pennsylvania were exposed to the virus by direct contact with a diagnosed individual residing outside of the country or outside of the Commonwealth.
  • There is no community spread of the virus in Bucks County at this time.
  • Children are not believed to be at a serious risk for the illness, and to-date not a single individual worldwide, under the age of fifteen, has died from the virus.
  • Those who have the highest risk are individuals with a weakened immune system; pregnant women; and/or those age 60 and over. 

Symptoms

Symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to the common flu virus and include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath 

These symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as fourteen or more days after exposure.  Reported illnesses have ranged from individuals with no symptom to becoming severely ill and dying. 

 

How the Virus is Spread

The virus is spread just like the flu or a cold:

  • Through the air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it 

How to Protect You and Your Family

The single best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is by washing your hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds several times throughout the day.  

 

Other ways to help prevent the spread of the illness include:

  • Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow. Do not use your hands!
  • Use a 60% or higher alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Clean surfaces frequently, including countertops, light switches, cell phones, remotes and other frequently touched items.
  • Contain: If you are sick, stay home until you feel better. Sick students and/or staff should not return to school until they are fever-free for a minimum of twenty-four hours without medication.  

Actions the School District is Taking

Enhanced Cleaning Protocols

In order to minimize exposure of our students and staff, our cleaning and custodial staff are utilizing enhanced flu-season cleaning protocols which also eliminate the coronavirus.

 

Student and Staff Travel

Upon the recommendation of the Dr. Damsker, Director of the Bucks County Health Department, all Bucks County Superintendents were advised to cancel all planned international travel out of the country for any students or staff.

 

Anticipated local field trips are currently being evaluated.

 

School Closings

At the current time, all school district buildings are open and operating at normal capacity.  There are no plans to close or cancel any school district or extracurricular events. 

 

In the event of direction from Dr. Damsker or other health authorities, there could be the possible need to cancel large gatherings scheduled to be held in the buildings or on school grounds.  More information would follow, in that case.

 

It is also possible, that in the event of an extreme situation, one or more of our schools could close, based on guidance and direction from the Bucks County Health Department and/or the Pennsylvania Department of Health.  I encourage you to prepare for a school closure which could potentially range from a single day in order to deep clean the school building to an extended duration to help mitigate the spread of any illness in our community.  These closures, if warranted, could occur on short notice.  Now is the time to create your family plan should some or all of our schools have to close.

 

I am hopeful that COVID-19 does not cause a health emergency in our area.  However, I want to assure you that our school district is taking all precautions and is preparing to take any necessary actions, acting in conjunction with recommendations from our local and state authorities.  Please know that I will continue to update you of any changes.

 

Additional information about COVID-19 can be found on the CDC Website  and the PA Dept of Health https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx.

 

Thank you for your help in keeping our schools and community safe.

 

Sincerely,

  

Kathleen Leon, M.Ed.

Assistant to the Superintendent 

____________________________________

 

March 6, 2020

 

Dear Bensalem Community:

Throughout the day, District Administration has been monitoring events concerning the school closures in the Central Bucks School District.  We watched Governor Wolf’s press conference this morning detailing the most up to date information about the coronavirus – COVID-19.  In addition to monitoring trends in other areas, District Administration conducted an internal meeting with Supervisors from our Facilities, Custodial, Food Services, Transportation, and Pupil Personnel Departments. Our District is taking appropriate measures to ensure our deep cleaning program continues.  This process includes cleaning frequently touched surfaces such as desks, doorknobs, handrails, water fountains, light switches, cafeteria tables, and buses.

Members of our district leadership team attended break-out sessions at the Bucks County Intermediate Unit this afternoon for further guidance and to share resources.

We will continue to follow the CDC guidelines closely and provide updates to the Bensalem Community as we receive them.  If a case is confirmed in our District, we will work closely with the Department of Health and follow their recommendations.

Some tips from the CDC website to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, such as coronavirus, include:

  • Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow. Do not use your hands;
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time;
  • If soap and water are not available, use a 60% or higher alcohol-based hand sanitizer;
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;
  • Stay home if you are sick! This is as much for your benefit as for those that will be near you at work and school;
  • Avoid close contact with those that are sick or showing symptoms of illness; and
  • Clean surfaces frequently, including countertops, light switches, cell phones, electronic devices, remotes, and other frequently touched items

You may be interested to read information released by the Department of Health and Governor Wolf’s office today:

 

Bucks County Department of Health Press Release (March 6, 2020)

http://www.buckscounty.org/sitefinitypfxn/newreader/2020/03/06/central-bucks-closes-five-schools-temporarily-as-a-covid-19-precaution

 

Statement from Governor Wolf’s Office (March 6, 2020)

https://filesource.wostreaming.net/commonwealthofpa/press_releases/17857_gov_pema_doh_corona_update.pdf

 

Additional information about COVID-19 can be found on the CDC Website.

 

Sincerely,

 

Kathleen Leon, M. Ed.

Assistant to the Superintendent

 _____________________________________

 

March 4, 2020

 

Dear Parents & Guardians:

 

Over the last several days, you and your family have likely heard reports from the news media and others about the necessity for state and local officials, including school districts, to prepare for the potential spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).  In an effort to ensure that our school district is prepared, I attended a countywide forum yesterday hosted by the Bucks County Intermediate Unit in Doylestown, PA. In attendance were personnel from the Bucks County Health Department, Bucks County Emergency Services, all six Bucks County hospitals, all thirteen Bucks County School Districts and three Career and Technical Centers (CTCs), Delaware Valley University, and the Bucks County Community College.  

 

It was shared that, as of yesterday morning, there are no known or reported cases of coronavirus in Bucks County or in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  It was also shared that the coronavirus is transmitted like the common flu virus and can be eliminated with good cleaning and personal hygiene practices.  As we are currently in our high-flu season, our schools already practice standard cleaning procedures each day, and the Bucks County Health Department offered assurances that those cleaning procedures will successfully kill the virus on contact surfaces.  In addition, our school district already has procedures in place to respond to reports of communicable illnesses, including the coronavirus. The Bucks County Health Department, along with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, issues guidance and direction to health care providers and schools when necessary during a potential outbreak situation.  Our district works directly with these health agencies in order to keep our students, staff, and greater community safe. The Bucks County Health Department will notify us of any confirmed cases of the coronavirus in our region and will provide guidance and information for distribution to families. 

 

You can find more information about the coronavirus at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC Website)[i] which is updated frequently with information about the coronavirus. The CDC also offers helpful FAQs[ii] about the coronavirus.  In addition, the PA Department of Health Coronavirus Website[iii]  is a good source of information.  

 

Some tips from the website to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, such as coronavirus, include:

• Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow. Do not use your hands;
• Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time;
• If soap and water are not available, use a 60% or higher alcohol-based hand sanitizer;
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;
• Stay home if you are sick! This is as much for your benefit as those that will be near you at work and school;
• Avoid close contact with those that are sick or showing symptoms of illness; and
• Clean surfaces frequently, including countertops, light switches, cell phones, electronic devices, remotes, and other frequently touched items.
 

 

Our school district will continue to work closely with the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, county leaders, and state officials.  I want to assure you that our school district is fully cooperating with federal, state, and county recommendations regarding the flu, coronavirus, and other communicable illnesses.  We will continue to share information as it becomes available. 

 

The safety of our students and staff remains a priority.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact your child’s principal or you may also contact me. 

Sincerely, 

Kathleen Leon, M.Ed.

Assistant to the Superintendent

[i] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

[ii] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

[iii] https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx