This story has been updated to include a statement from school board president Donna Grove noting that the board’s comments on the mask mandate were made before the new executive order was signed.
At the Fauquier County School Board’s annual summit on January 12, school board members and staff discussed the latest Centers for Disease Control COVID-19 Protocols – announced on January 7 – and how they would affect students and staff. They also pondered what might happen if Virginia’s new governor, Glenn Youngkin, lifts the school’s mask mandate.
The bottom line: Most protocols will remain the same, including mandatory masks at school for children and staff.
School board president Donna Grove (Cedar Run District) said at the Jan. 12 summit that even if newly inaugurated Glenn Youngkin were to lift Virginia’s mask mandate in schools, “that’s just the half the problem”. She explained that a law known as Senate Bill 1303 requires schools to “follow CDC guidelines ‘whenever possible.’ The General Assembly must deal with it. As long as masks are part of the quarantine guidelines, we must follow them. »
Youngkin (R), did what he said he would do when he took office Jan. 15, signing an executive order that reads: “Parents of any child enrolled in an elementary school or secondary school or in a school-based child care and early education program may choose to have their children not subject to any mask mandate in effect at the school or the child’s educational program.
But at issue is a law, passed by the General Assembly in early 2021 with overwhelming bipartisan support, that requires school divisions to implement “all currently applicable mitigation strategies ‘recommended by the CDC’ to the extent possible”. This law cannot be overridden by executive order – only the state legislature can do that.
the The CDC recommends “Universal indoor masking by all students (ages 2+), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status,” among other mitigations. Former Gov. Ralph Northam (D) initially backed away from enforcing the law, and the Fauquier County school board initially chose to ignore federal guidelines, making masks optional at the start of the school year in August.
But Northam’s health commissioner issued an order a few days later, and the Fauquier School Board – with great reluctance and in the face of many angry parents – backtracked and instituted a “mandate”, although she also created a no questions asked option. -out policy. As the number of COVID-19 cases rose several weeks later, school board members then pleaded with parents not to remove their children from the mask requirement. (Parents can always exclude their children for “religious” or “health” reasons.)
Youngkin rescinded that public health order over the weekend, but school board members said at their Jan. 12 meeting that the 2021 law would still apply. “No matter what we think of masks, they are still part of quarantine protocol,” said Stephanie Litter-Reber, who represents Lee District. The school division would have faced fines of $25,000 per incident if it made masks optional in schools when schools opened in August 2021, and that hasn’t changed, she said. .
Superintendent of Schools David Jeck also reminded summit attendees that anyone riding a school bus — which is public transportation — is required by federal law to wear a mask.
Grove said in an email Sunday, “As of Wednesday, the board did not have the information available today regarding the exact wording of the executive order. The executive order also indicates that further guidance will come from the superintendent of public instruction at the ‘State Hopefully, we’ll have that advice when we meet on January 20, and we’ll be able to make an informed decision – something we can’t do until we know how the quarantine piece of the puzzle is explained.”
Nicholas Napolitano, Fauquier’s new executive director of student services and special education led the January 12 discussion on the CDC’s new COVID-19 guidelines regarding isolation for those who have tested positive. He explained that the CDC’s new advice states that people with COVID-19 should self-isolate for five days. After that, if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms resolve (no fever for 24 hours), they should follow that with five days of wearing a mask when around other people to minimize the risk of infecting the people they meet.
The protocol represents a departure from previous advice, which recommended 10 days of isolation.
The CDC has also revised its recommendations for those who have had close contact with someone who has tested positive.
CDC guidelines released by the school division explain that in addition to self-isolating for five days after exposure, everyone must wear a properly fitting mask around others for 10 days from the date of their last close contact. with someone who has COVID-19 (the date of last close contact is considered day 0). They should also get tested at least five days after being in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, unless they have had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the past 90 days and they subsequently recovered.
For 10 days after their last exposure to someone with COVID-19, they should watch for fever (100.4◦F or higher), cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19. People who test positive or develop symptoms of COVID-19 should follow isolation recommendations.
The CDC says people who have received their booster do not need to self-quarantine after exposure. However, they must wear a mask for 10 days after exposure.
The key point, school board members said, is that students or staff who have been exposed to COVID-19 must have a negative PCR test — an at-home test doesn’t count — before returning to school. This part of the protocol has not changed.
The problem is, school board member Stephanie Litter-Reber (Lee District) pointed out, “tests are impossible to get right now.”
School board members told stories of long lines and hard-to-find appointments for PCR tests.
Napolitano said the Virginia Department of Health will receive tests to distribute to schools, but the timing is uncertain.
Vincent Gallo (Scott District), the newest member of the school board who was sworn in on Tuesday, Jan. 10, asked if school nurses might be able to give COVID-19 tests in school parking lots when those tests are available, to try to make testing more accessible.
But due to the high volume of tests that might need to be administered, Jeck shook his head and said, “If we have to ask the school nurses to do one more thing…”
Other board members agreed that school nurses are already overstretched.