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Schools discuss plans for new year

With new guidance recently released by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) concerning masking up at school, local school systems are in various stages of outlining what this school year’s full-time, in person learning will look like.

Although plans could change based on evolving local health data, students’ school days are shaping up to be a mixture of pre- and post-pandemic practices.

New guidance recommends elementary schools 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 to be fully vaccinated.

Middle and high schools are encouraged, at a minimum, to implement a requirement that students, teachers and staff who are not fully vaccinated wear masks indoors.

In addition, all schools should be prepared to adjust local mask policies as local public health conditions evolve throughout the year.

According to Prince Edw​​ard County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson, PECPS students this year will be required to wear masks except during meals and outside during recess where social distancing can occur. Short mask breaks will be given throughout the day during times that students are socially distanced by at least three feet.

Classroom sizes, she added, will be similar to a typical school year, but desks and seating will be three feet apart.

During lunch, most PECPS students will eat in the cafeteria spaced three feet apart where possible. Some lower grades will continue to eat in the classroom.

During gym, students will be required to wear a mask, and high contact extracurricular activities will require mask use.

Federal mandates require masks in school-owned vehicles, and PECPS students must wear a mask while riding the school bus and sit three feet apart where possible. Families will be seated together on the bus.

As expected, some students may not feel comfortable yet returning to in person classes. Johnson said PECPS has partnered with Virtual Virginia to offer a remote learning option which will follow the Virtual Virginia calendar beginning August 10.

“Virtual learning options will look different this year, as students will be taught by Virtual Virginia teachers, following the Virtual Virginia school calendar and school day schedule,” Johnson noted.  “PECPS will offer two intersessions designed to support students who need additional help in addressing learning loss caused by the pandemic.  Intersessions are in addition to the regular school year and will occur October 11-15 and March 7-11, 2022.

“More information will be provided to parents by September 10. We maintain a COVID information page on our website for families. Changes may occur based on local health data and other related findings throughout the school year.”

The school day will look similar for Buckingham County Public Schools (BCPS) students.

“Buckingham County Public Schools will operate on a five-day-a-week, full-day schedule to meet the Virginia Department of Education state requirement of the 990 clock hours/180 days,” BCPS Superintendent Dr. Daisy Hicks stated. “Three feet social distance will be required when possible.”

As per the state mandate, students at Buckingham will also be required to mask up while on the bus, and student pickup and dropoff will be at one location as determined by the parent or guardian.

Hicks said the School Board will hold a meeting Tuesday, Aug. 3, at 6 p.m. to make a decision on mask wearing in school buildings.

Like Prince Edward, BCPS will be utilizing Virginia Virtual for students who want to continue virtual learning.

“Students and staff will utilize proper handwashing, following the CDC guidelines of washing with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds and using alcohol based hand sanitizer throughout the day,” Hicks added. “Focus will continue to be on deep cleaning and sanitizing. Meals will be provided to all students and may be eaten in the classroom with a limited number of students eating in the cafeteria when possible.”

Cumberland County Public Schools (CuCPS) Superintendent Dr. Chip Jones noted Wednesday, July 28, a final decision had yet to be made regarding masking up in school buildings, although plans were in place to issue reopening plans within the next day.

Jones added CuCPS will also utilize Virtual Virginia as the option for families who have opted for at-home learning.

“We will adhere to the social distancing guidelines to the greatest extent possible,” he added. “School administration has plans in place for meal times and extracurricular activities. Some classes will eat in their classrooms, while others will utilize the cafeteria.”

CuCPS will also follow federal mandates regarding masking on school buses.

“We are excited to welcome our students back to school — five days a week.” Jones said. “I appreciate the support our families give us each and every day. The entire CuCPS team has worked diligently to make sure this school year is engaging and full of Duke Pride.”