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What to know about school masks, staff vaccines and quarantines in the D.C. area

Masked students arrive for the first day of class at Glasgow Middle School in Lincolnia, Va., on Aug. 23. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

Students across the D.C. region are back in classrooms as schools, families and officials balance a desire to resume some normalcy after more than a year of mostly virtual learning with many students who are concerned about the rise of coronavirus cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant.

Schools have spent the past few months refining guidelines on masks, staff vaccines, quarantines and other strategies to try to limit the spread of the virus.

Ask The Post: We’re taking your questions on returning to school amid the delta variant

Here is a look at some of what’s planned in area districts:

Alexandria City Public Schools:

The first day of school: Aug. 24 for all schools except for Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School, which started Aug. 9.

Is there a mask mandate? Are masks required during recess or lunch?

Masks are required for everyone indoors and while in school vehicles, regardless of vaccination status. No masks are required outside for recess. Students must wear masks during lunch when they are not eating.

Is there a vaccine mandate for staff members?

All staff members must be fully vaccinated or participate in weekly testing. But school board members said recently that they want a stronger vaccine mandate.

Is the school system doing testing? If so, how often and what kind?

The district plans to do voluntary, “surveillance” testing of students with the consent of a parent or guardian.

Is there a virtual option? Who is eligible?

Yes. The district expects to have nearly 530 students learning through the Virtual Virginia program.

What are the district’s quarantine rules?

The district said that per health and safety guidelines, quarantine is 14 days from the date of exposure for close contacts. More details are available on the district’s website.

Is your district preparing for a possible return to all-virtual schooling should the public health situation force it?

The district said that it is prepared to pivot quickly to virtual learning if needed and that the infrastructure used last year will remain in place.

More guidance is available on the district’s website.

Northam mandates masks inside all K-12 schools in Virginia this fall, even for the vaccinated

Arlington Public Schools:

The first day of school: Aug. 30.

Is there a mask mandate? Are masks required during recess or lunch?

Face coverings must be worn at all times indoors except while eating or drinking, or during outdoor recess, physical education or other outdoor activities. For team practices and games held indoors, participants will wear masks while on the sidelines, but may remove them during play. Masks are optional for fully vaccinated staff members when they are in a closed office setting working independently and no students are present.

Is there a vaccine mandate for staff members?

Staff members are required to be fully vaccinated or be tested regularly.

Is there a vaccine mandate for students?

Starting Nov. 8, high school athletes and eighth-graders participating in winter and spring sports must be vaccinated. Students with medical exemptions must undergo testing for the virus.

Is the school system doing testing? If so, how often and what kind?

The district will test students weekly, and families will be asked to opt in.

Is there a virtual option? Who is eligible?

Yes. The district said it is expecting 800 students to participate across all grade levels. Everyone is eligible.

What are the district’s quarantine rules?

If a coronavirus case occurs in a classroom, students within three feet or less of the infected person will be quarantined, regardless of mask use. Students who were within three to six feet may not be considered a close contact as long as both students were wearing masks and the school has other virus mitigation strategies in place. Quarantines may last eight days, with a negative test result on Day 5. Fully vaccinated people are exempt from quarantines.

Is your district preparing for a possible return to all-virtual schooling should the public health situation force it?

The district said it will not close school buildings and shift to full virtual instruction unless state officials order it to do so.

More guidance is available on the district’s website.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and other officials on Aug. 18 described masking policies and testing requirements for students as they head back to class. (Video: Muriel E. Bowser)

D.C. Public Schools

The first day of school: Aug. 30. Charter schools, which educate nearly half of the city’s public school students, have varying start dates.

Is there a mask mandate? Are masks required during recess or lunch?

All students and staff members, regardless of their vaccination status, must wear a mask indoors. During lunch, everyone is asked to wear a mask when they are not eating or drinking.

Is there a vaccine mandate for staff members?

Yes, teachers and school staff working in the District, including those at public charter and private schools, must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) had previously required all city employees — including school staff members — to be fully vaccinated or get tested each week.

Is there a vaccine mandate for students?

Student-athletes ages 12 and older must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1 to participate in school-based sports. Students who turn 12 between Sept. 20 and Nov. 1 must be vaccinated by Dec. 13.

Is the school system doing testing? If so, how often and what kind?

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education said its asymptomatic testing program would aim to test 10 to 20 percent of students. After initially saying parents must consent to testing, the city recently announced that it would automatically enroll all public school students into the testing program. Families can opt out. Charter schools may opt into this program, or use a city grant to enact one of their own.

D.C. fell short of student testing goals in the spring

Is there a virtual option? Who is eligible?

The city has said only students who have certain medical conditions — and doctor’s notes — qualify for virtual learning. So far, 106 out of the school system’s 52,000 students have been approved for virtual school, city officials said. The city’s charter board has approved expanding virtual learning eligibility for some charter schools.

What are the district’s quarantine rules?

The quarantine rules are less stringent than in the previous academic year. Anyone in a school building who tests positive for the virus will be required to isolate for at least 10 days. Unvaccinated students or staff considered a close contact of someone who has the virus must quarantine for at least seven days.

Is your district preparing for a possible return to all-virtual schooling should the public health situation force it?

The Bowser administration has remained steadfast that it intends to require in-person learning for nearly all students this academic year, and the mayor has said she is not watching for any specific coronavirus case number that could change that.

School officials have said that coronavirus infection rates increased in schools after the Thanksgiving break. The city moved nine schools to virtual instruction for the rest of the week before the winter holiday break: Whittier Elementary, McKinley Tech High School, Turner Elementary, Bard High School Early College, Beers Elementary, Boone Elementary, Miner Elementary, Stuart-Hobson Middle School and Takoma Elementary.

Other schools across the city have been prepping for another post-winter break covid-19 surge, and some will take a stricter approach than D.C. public schools’ test-recommended-but-optional approach.

KIPP DC, the city’s largest charter network, changed its plans last week: Now students will be returning to virtual instruction and learning asynchronously on Jan. 3.

All of the staff and students at KIPP DC must report to the school and get tested for the coronavirus. Students will return in staggered arrival times Jan. 4, and only staff and students with a verified negative rapid test will be admitted onto campus.

More guidance is available on the district’s website.

Fairfax County Public Schools:

The first day of school: Aug. 23.

Is there a mask mandate? Are masks required during recess or lunch?

Everyone must wear a mask indoors, although staff members can go without a face covering if they are alone in an office or room. Outdoor masking is recommended for anyone who is not fully vaccinated in crowded settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact. Students can remove masks at lunch while eating but must put them back on when they are finished.

Is there a vaccine mandate for staff members?

Yes. All Fairfax school employees must be vaccinated by late October or submit to regular testing.

Is there a vaccine mandate for students?

Yes, for high school student-athletes. The district announced Aug. 30 that it will require students who play winter and spring high school sports and other activities that require a physical to show proof of vaccination by Nov. 8.

Is the school system doing testing? If so, how often and what kind?

The district plans to partner with a third-party provider to administer testing, and will continue to work with the county health department to test symptomatic in-person students or staff members who are unable to access testing independently.

Is there a virtual option? Who is eligible?

Yes, although eligibility is limited and based on a documented health need. About 400 students are enrolled in the district’s virtual program.

What are the district’s quarantine rules?

The district’s website says that in the event of an exposure to the virus, it will work with the county’s health department to conduct contact tracing and determine whether quarantining is necessary. The district said protocols are in place to ensure continuity of learning.

Is your district preparing for a possible return to all-virtual schooling should the public health situation force it?

The district plans to remain open unless directed otherwise by health officials or by executive order. Officials said the system has plans to ensure continuity of learning in the event of a temporary closure.

More guidance is available on the district’s website.

Loudoun County Public Schools

The first day of school: Aug. 26.

Is there a mask mandate? Are masks required during recess or lunch?

All students and staff members must wear face coverings indoors, regardless of their vaccination status. Students will not be required to wear masks during recess, physical education or other outdoor activities. Students won’t have to wear masks when eating or drinking, but will be required to when in line or socializing in the cafeteria or other eating areas.

Is there a vaccine mandate for staff members?

Yes. All school employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1 or submit to weekly testing.

Is the school system doing testing? If so, how often and what kind?

The district is not performing testing.

Is there a virtual option? Who is eligible?

Yes. The district said that all students were welcome to apply for its distance learning program and that 533 were accepted. Additional students with serious medical conditions were then welcomed to apply off a wait list.

What are the district’s quarantine rules?

The district said it is following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Students identified as close contacts to an infected person must quarantine for 14 days. A student who is within three to six feet of an infected person is not considered a close contact as long as both are wearing masks and the school has other prevention strategies in place. Students who have been fully vaccinated will not be required to quarantine as long as they remain asymptomatic.

Is your district preparing for a possible return to all-virtual schooling should the public health situation force it?

The district said state law does not allow for a return to all-virtual learning, but individual classrooms or schools may temporarily pivot based on in-school virus transmission.

More guidance is available on the district’s website.

Montgomery County Public Schools

The first day of school: Aug. 30.

Is there a mask mandate? Are masks required during recess or lunch?

Yes, masks are required for all. Masks are strongly encouraged but not required for outdoor recess. Students must be masked while indoors but can remove their masks while eating.

Is there a vaccine mandate for staff members?

Employees must be vaccinated. Those with medical waivers will have to submit to regular testing.

Is the school system doing testing? If so, how often and what kind?

The school system will do pool testing for random samples of students in prekindergarten through sixth grade, as younger students are not yet eligible to receive coronavirus vaccines.

Is there a virtual option? Who is eligible?

Yes. The district is offering a virtual academy to accepted students. Eligible students had to show extenuating circumstances, including physical challenges, mental health needs or demonstrated academic success during virtual learning.

What are the district’s quarantine rules?

The district said it is following state health and CDC guidance. If a child tests positive in a classroom, anyone who was less than three feet for more than 15 minutes would need to quarantine. Outside of a classroom setting, any student less than six feet away while unmasked would need to quarantine. Fully vaccinated students do not need to quarantine unless they have symptoms. Unvaccinated students and staff members who have been exposed must quarantine for 10 days.

Is your district preparing for a possible return to all-virtual schooling should the public health situation force it?

Only if ordered by state or federal officials.

More guidance is available on the district’s website.

Prince George’s County Schools

The first day of school: Sept. 8.

Is there a mask mandate? Are masks required during recess or lunch?

Masks are required indoors and also at recess and when students are not eating during lunch.

Is there a vaccine mandate for staff members?

Yes, employees must be vaccinated or participate in weekly testing.

Is the school system doing testing? If so, how often and what kind?

The district will conduct coronavirus testing and screening of students and staff members as needed.

Is there a virtual option? Who is eligible?

The district is temporarily offering virtual learning in grades K-6 for students who are not yet eligible for a coronavirus vaccine. The district also is offering an online campus for older students that will be a mix of synchronous and asynchronous instruction.

What are the district’s quarantine rules?

Schools will notify families and staff members after exposure to a confirmed or probable coronavirus case. If a case is confirmed, the infected person must quarantine at home for at least 10 days and be symptom-free before returning. Students or staff members who were in close contact with the person and not fully vaccinated must quarantine for at least 10 days.

If a single coronavirus case is confirmed, the system will close the exposed area of the facility. But if multiple cases are confirmed within at least three days, the system will close the entire facility to clean and sanitize all areas.

Is your district preparing for a possible return to all-virtual schooling should the public health situation force it?

The district said it will “continue to make decisions that are in our students’ and families’ best interests, while seeking guidance from medical experts” and has processes that could allow it to pivot to virtual learning if necessary.

More guidance is available at on the district’s website.

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