Prince William County Schools Superintendent LaTanya McDade announces back to school COVID-19 plan

PWCS Superintendent Announces Universal Indoor Masking for Start of 2021 School Year

Dr. McDade says the school year will begin 5-days in-person with everyone masking indoors

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Prince William County Schools new Superintendent, Dr. LaTanya McDade announced that students will return 5-days- in-person for for the start of the 2021-22 school year, and universal indoor masking will be required in all Prince William County Schools.

The message was posted on the PWCS website, Aug. 2 as well as emailed to parents and staff members.

“Our students are best served in person. We know this paves the way for the greatest outcomes for everyone and is important for students’ academic progress, social-emotional growth, and well-being. There will be a large number of students returning, and we are taking precautions to ensure every student’s safety and to minimize disruptions to learning," Dr. McDade said in the announcement. 

The most prominent safety measure will be “universal indoor masking."

"Universal indoor masking will be required in all PWCS schools at the start of the 2021-22 school year for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status with some exceptions. Additional exceptions may include medical conditions or students whose disability may prevent masking."

McDade said that she has had “numerous conversations with parents, students, educators, faculty and staff.” However, the school division is mainly following CDC guidelines.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is supporting universal masking for students. Additionally, Virginia law (SB1303) requires in-person instruction be available to all students, and to the maximum extent practicable, schools follow mitigation strategies that have been provided by the CDC.”

PWCS announced that  "through masking, our schools will be:

  • Maintaining a layer of mitigation for staff and students when physical distancing is not possible.
  • Significantly reducing potential disruption to the educational environment caused by student quarantines.
  • Providing time for vaccines to become available at all ages and for more students to receive vaccinations.
  • Reducing potential impacts to staffing due to employee illness or quarantine.”

Finer details of the new masking policy are dependent upon whether the person is indoors or outdoors, whether they are alone or in a group, their vaccination status and how masking will affect the school activity.  (See table below.)

Gov. Ralph Northam gave local jurisdictions the freedom to determine their schools mitigation strategies. He recommended they be informed by CDC guidelines and local COVID-19 statistics.

The COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been made available to persons under the age of 13. Studies are currently being done on children aged 6-12; this leaves younger students at a disadvantage.  And the COVID-19 vaccination is not a requirement for returning back to school either for students or staff. 

Although the vast majority of PWCS students will be served via an in-person model, there are virtual options available for students who feel uncomfortable in an in-person setting and/or have increased health risks. High school students can take classes through virtual Prince William or Virtual Virginia. Elementary and Middle School students may take classes either virtually through their base schools or through a collaboration of schools offering a program. Parents or guardians would need to inform their base school for more information.

The School Board said in June that the goal is to not have hybrid classrooms, though their may be some exceptions. 

The announcement comes at a time when the Delta Variant has become more prominent. According to the CDC, it spreads more quickly, affects younger people, and can even be spread by vaccinated people. Although vaccinated people are catching the COVID-19 Delta virus, their chance of serious illness and death are greatly reduced.

The governor has recommended more people mask up in public, especially in indoor settings. 

More can be found on PWCS.edu. 

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