How Do We Open Schools Safely?
Among crayons, clothes, and an unconventional back-to-school season, the Virginia Department of Health’s recent recommendation has caregivers penciling masks back on their shopping lists.
Alongside VDH, the Virginia Department of Education issued a recommendation last week for all Virginia elementary schools to require students to wear masks in school. Middle and high school administrations should take the same precaution as a minimum for unvaccinated students.
With the recommendation came a 5-step plan for reopening with community transmission rates and school impact in mind. Ultimately, it is up to individual schools and school systems to determine the best course of action. Whichever approach, VDH recommends a multilayered prevention strategy.
(Because of an executive order issued by President Joe Biden earlier this year, all students who ride the bus to school must wear a face mask, whether or not the school requires them. Currently, it is set to expire Sept. 13, but the Biden administration could extend it again.)
Different Solutions for Different Systems
“We will open as normally as possible following a tiered approach,” said Keith Perrigan, Superintendent of Bristol Virginia Public Schools, in email correspondence with Dogwood. “We have not made a decision on masks yet.”
One system following the guidance is Richmond Public Schools, who will require all students, staff and visitors to wear masks in any RPS building. Fairfax County Public Schools, like many others, update their plans as decisions are made.
Here are some of the actions your school system may take:
– Promote vaccination for 12+
– Consistent and correct mask use
– Physical distancing
– COVID-19 screening and testing
– Updated ventilation systems
– Implement respiratory and hygiene etiquette
– Regularly deep-clean facilities
– Send sick or exposed children home
– Contact tracing, isolation and quarantine
Virginia Public Schools Requiring Masks for In-Person Instruction
Buena Vista (for unvaccinated students)
Caroline County (for pK-5)
Lexington (for pK-5 and unvaccinated students)
Lynchburg (for unvaccinated students)
Virginia Beach (for pK-5 and unvaccinated students)
Virginia Public Schools Making Masks Optional for In-Person Instruction
Prince George County
The following school systems have yet to make a decision specific to school masking for the upcoming year, or our reporter has not found recent information:
Bath County (last update was May)
Bristol (see Perrigan comment)
Buchanan County (discussed in July)
Charles City County (last update was February)
Danville (TBD August 10)
Dinwiddie County (TBD August 10)
Gloucester County (last update was May)
Harrisonburg (doesn’t explicitly say)
Highland County Public Schools
Isle of Wight County (TBD August 12)
Nelson County (TBD August 12)
New Kent County
Radford (community survey closed July 30)
York County (TBD August 30)
Yet to be researched:
Prince Edward County
*These lists are updated, but the best place to find up-to-date information is through your school directly. The last update was 8/11/21. If you have more recent information, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include information about face masks on school buses.