Reopening Schools Plan - Health Mitigation Strategies

Details on the health mitigation strategies for reopening schools

Health Mitigation Strategies for Reopening

Virginia’s reopening plans are based on CDC guidelines for ensuring safe and healthy learning and working environments. FCPS is actively collaborating with the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) to determine criteria and guidelines for school operations in 2020-21. Together, staff have established a joint school and health department COVID-19 response plan covering FCPS and Falls Church City Public Schools. The general health and safety protocols outlined below for students and employees are further detailed in the following resources:

Preparation and Monitoring Actions  

All decisions about how schools reopen—as well as decisions about any future closures—are informed by the most recent local health data in partnership with the FCHD. The FCHD point of contact for direct contact for FCPS is Joanna Hemmat, Assistant Director, Health Services (703-267-3511). At each school, the principal serves as the point person for COVID-19 issues and inquiries. The principal’s contact information is available on the FCPS schools and centers webpage.

Protecting Vulnerable Individuals 

The CDC has defined certain students and staff who need extra precautions against infection. As prescribed in the governor’s phase guidance, FCPS will provide a full-time online option for students and teachers. This option is available for students and teachers who need extra precautions due to medical risk and others who are concerned about potential risk. Flexible telework assignments are available for non-teaching staff, including those with higher health risk. The screening, health, and safety measures that follow will offer further precautions for vulnerable students and staff.

Health Screening 

FCPS will implement daily health screening practices for students, staff, and visitors. FCPS is partnering with the FCHD to develop and refine protocols for daily screening, reporting, and monitoring for 2020-21. A public information campaign will be utilized to reinforce the importance of staying home for any individual who is sick. Staff will be required to complete daily self-reporting to verify they are asymptomatic when reporting to the worksite. Public health assistants will screen students that report symptoms upon arrival or whose caregiver did not complete the daily health screening.

Responding to Illness 

FCPS and FCHD have developed protocols for students and staff. Each case is handled individually, applying established FCHD protocols for communicable disease and contact tracing, including expectations for communicating to families about occurrences within a school community. When a student is found to be symptomatic during the school day, they will be moved to an isolation room for monitoring until they can be safely transported for testing and treatment. 

Student and Community Health Monitoring 

At an individual student level, FCPS will actively monitor absences for both in-person and online instruction. Absences reported to be due to personal or family COVID-19 infection will assist schools in providing appropriate resources and support for the student and family during the absence and in supporting a smooth transition back to instruction when it is safe for the student to return. 

At a community level, FCPS will regularly communicate and monitor developments with local health department authorities regarding cases, exposures, hospitalizations, and any other relevant metrics that may require a change in school operations. In the event of an elevated number of cases in local health data or in the event of presumed or confirmed cases directly impacting schools or central offices, FCPS will consult with FCHD authorities for all decisions about short-term closure of a classroom, school, or the division as a whole.

Closure Decisions

Decisions about closure of a classroom or school are made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the number of impacted individuals, extent of social distancing in place while infectious individuals were present, extent of interactions and exposure within the space, and potential risk to others in and outside of the class or school. When contact tracing indicates a significant risk with the identified classroom or school, division leaders will transition all affected students to the “temporary online for all” level on the in-person delivery continuum. No specific metrics are defined for these closure decisions, as leaders must weigh the nuances of each situation using the outlined criteria and make the best judgment for the safety of the school community. 

Decisions about closure of the division as a whole are made in consultation with the FCHD based on current local, regional, state, and national public health data trends. No specific metric levels are defined for these decisions, at this time. However, the VDH is in the process of developing a new monitoring tool intended to assist local officials in making data-based decisions about operations in their communities. Once available, FCPS intends to identify key health metrics that will guide future decisions about dialing in and dialing out on the in-person delivery continuum.

See the chapter on preparing for future closures for additional information on the multi-faceted metrics, thresholds, and process used for closure decisions at all levels. 

Measures to Reduce Virus Spread 

The CDC has highlighted specific mitigating strategies to reduce risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission.

Hygiene Practices

Routine healthy hygiene practices are a foundational measure to protect against COVID-19 and other illnesses. FCPS hand washing guidelines indicate that students should wash hands for at least 20 seconds after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing before eating, and upon entering classrooms. Breaks will be provided for hand washing, as needed. If soap and water are not readily available, sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol will be provided. FCPS will supply hand sanitizer and disinfectant for use by students and staff.

Face Coverings and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) 

All staff, visitors, and students ages two and older will wear face coverings while inside FCPS facilities and while using FCPS-provided transportation. Face coverings may be cloth or disposable and will be provided for individuals who are unable to provide their own. Exceptions to this requirement include: 

  • While individuals are eating, drinking, or exercising;
  • When under the supervision of a school staff official who directs the covering to be removed; and
  • Individuals with a health condition, a communication or impairment, or disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering.

Additional protective equipment including face shields, gloves, and gowns will be provided, as appropriate, for settings that require close human contact, such as for staff providing certain supports for students with disabilities. Plexi-glass shields have been mounted in main offices and reception areas of schools and central offices.

Physical Distancing 

FCPS staff will employ social distancing strategies to increase spacing between individuals, including adjusted seating arrangements for school buses and classrooms and posted signs to remind staff and students of 6-foot social distancing. A 3-foot VDH protocol combined with required face covering is applied as a back-up when 6-foot distancing is not possible for a particular space. Staff will maintain small groups by having students eat meals in classrooms whenever possible and limiting volunteers and visitors in the building. Additionally, staff will use strategies to minimize mixing between groups whenever possible. Specific practices will be customized for each school and may include designating building entrances by grade level, mapping traffic patterns through the school, and scheduling  student and staff groupings to be as static as possible.

Ongoing Monitoring Practices 

Additional ongoing steps are necessary to maintain optimal health environments and operations throughout the year.

Cleaning and Disinfection 

Cleaning and disinfection measures will ensure the physical spaces, equipment, and materials students and staff come into contact with remain safe. Daily sanitizing will be implemented for high touch areas (doorknobs, handles, fixtures, etc.) with a medical grade sanitizing solution. Restrooms will be monitored and cleaned more frequently throughout the day. Outside cleaning services will be contracted, as needed.

Air and Water Quality 

FCPS buildings are ventilated with outdoor air throughout the day to reduce the buildup of pollutants and odors. To mitigate air and water quality issues, staff will conduct enhanced preventative maintenance on all mechanical, electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems, including replacement of air filters. Additionally, staff will conduct enhanced building checks prior to reopening buildings to identify areas of concern and use high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan and filtration systems to enhance air cleaning in areas identified as concern. Staff will continue to monitor water quality at FCPS facilities to ensure systems are safe to use after any prolonged building closure, including scheduled closures such as summer and unscheduled closures such as those prompted by pandemic. 

Field Trips and Visitors

All travel for FCPS students is prohibited for school year 2020-21. This includes routine, unusual, and international field trips. All incoming and outgoing short-term visitations are also prohibited for 2020-21. Volunteer access to facilities will be limited, and all visitors will be required to complete the daily health screening questionnaire.

Reopening Schools Plan - Complete Information