Student wearing a mask at his desk.
A student wears a face mask while doing work at his desk. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, FIle)

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

Alexandria

Accomack County

Albemarle County

Amelia County

Arlington County

Augusta County

Brunswick County

Buckingham County

Buena Vista (for unvaccinated students)

Caroline County (for pK-5)

Charlottesville

Chesapeake

Colonial Beach

Colonial Heights

Cumberland County

Fairfax County

Frederick County

Fredericksburg

Hampton

Henry County

Hopewell

King and Queen County

Lexington (for pK-5 and unvaccinated students)

Lynchburg (for unvaccinated students)

Manassas

Montgomery County

Prince William County

Richmond

Rockbridge County

Spotsylvania County

Virginia Beach (for pK-5 and unvaccinated students)

Westmoreland County

West Point

Winchester

Virginia Public Schools Making Masks Optional for In-Person Instruction

Amherst County

Appomattox County

Bedford County

Botetourt County

Campbell County

Carroll County

Charlotte County

Craig County

Culpeper County

Dickenson County

Fauquier County

Floyd County

Franklin

Franklin County

Grayson County

Greene County

Henrico County

King William County

Patrick County

Petersburg

Powhatan County

Prince George County

Roanoke County

Tazewell County

Stafford 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:

Alleghany County

Bath County (last update was May)

Bland County

Bristol (see Perrigan comment)

Buchanan County (discussed in July)

Charles City County (last update was February)

Covington

Danville (TBD August 10)

Dinwiddie County (TBD August 10)

Galax

Giles County

Goochland County

Gloucester County (last update was May)

Greensville County

Halifax County

Harrisonburg (doesn’t explicitly say)

Highland County Public Schools

Isle of Wight County (TBD August 12)

Lancaster County

Essex County

Falls Church

Martinsville

Nelson County (TBD August 12)

New Kent County

Pittsylvania County

Pulaski County

Radford (community survey closed July 30)

Rappahannock County

Salem

Williamsburg-James City County

Wise County

Wythe County 

York County (TBD August 30)

Yet to be researched:

Madison County

Manassas Park

Mathews County

Mecklenburg County

Middlesex County

Newport News

Norfolk

Northampton County

Northumberland County

Norton

Nottoway County

Orange County

Page County

Patrick County

Portsmouth

Poquoson

Prince Edward County

Richmond County

Roanoke

Rockingham County

Russell County

Scott County

Shenandoah County

Smyth County

Southampton County

Staunton

Suffolk

Surry County

Sussex County

Warren County

Washington County

Waynesboro

*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 alexscribner@couriernewsroom.com.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include information about face masks on school buses.