VA schools will determine mask policies based on local data and guidance
Masks are encouraged indoors for everyone in elementary schools and those who are not vaccinated in middle/high schools.
ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ/VDH RELEASE) - The Virginia Department of Health has released new guidance for PreK-12 schools as students prepare to return to the classroom.
The Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Virginia PreK-12 Schools reinforces the importance of in-person learning and supports school divisions in making decisions on masking and other preventative measures by using local data and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Virginia has followed the science throughout this pandemic, and that’s what we continue to do,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “This guidance takes into consideration recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and will provide necessary flexibility for school divisions while ensuring a safe, healthy, and world-class learning environment for Virginia’s students. Again, I strongly urge every eligible Virginian to get vaccinated. Getting your shot will protect you, your family, and your community—and it is the only way we can beat this pandemic once and for all.”
Once the State Commissioner’s Public Health Order goes out of effect July 25, school divisions will be able to implement mask policies based on community conditions and public health recommendations. Virginia guidance strongly recommends that school divisions implement the following recent recommendations from the CDC for the 2021-2022 school year:
- Elementary schools should implement a requirement that students, teachers and staff wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, until vaccination is available for children under 12-years-old and there has been sufficient time to allow for children younger than 12-years-old to be fully vaccinated.
- At a minimum, middle and high schools should implement a requirement that students, teachers and staff who are not fully vaccinated wear masks indoors. While school divisions regularly confirm school-required immunization records of their students, they should consult with their counsel in determining if and how to confirm student and staff COVID-19 vaccinations.
- All schools may want to consider universal masking for specific reasons as outlined in certain circumstances by the CDC.
- All schools should be prepared to adjust local mask policies as local public health conditions evolve throughout the year.
A CDC federal order requiring masks to be worn on public transportation remains in effect and applies to Virginia public school buses.
“Schools occupy a special place in the life of our communities, and we need to do everything we can to keep everyone in them safe. This guidance is aimed at protecting students, educators, and staff while also providing localities with flexibility,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “We continue to urge eligible Virginians to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”
In line with Senate Bill 1303, all Virginia schools are required to make in-person instruction available in the upcoming school year. Updated guidance recommends physical distancing of at least 3 feet to the greatest extent possible, but says schools should not reduce in-person learning to fit distancing guidelines.
“As schools prepare to welcome students back for the 2021-2022 school year, our priority is safely providing in-person instruction so that each and every child can learn and thrive in the classroom,” said Dr. James Lane, Superintendent of Public Instruction. “With this latest guidance and ample federal pandemic relief funds available to school divisions, our local school leaders are equipped to implement appropriate mitigation strategies and ensure student and staff safety within the schools in their communities.”
The guidance recommends school divisions continue to work with local health departments in implementing mitigation strategies, based on community transmission levels, local vaccine data, cases and outbreaks in schools and the use of screening testing data to detect cases in schools.
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