Return to School - Safety
Returning strong and staying strong all year
FCPS is Returning Strong for five days a week of in-person learning this fall!
We all have a part to play in how we return strong and stay strong all year. The most essential thing we can do is keep our schools safe and healthy places to learn. This fall, we’re implementing layered prevention strategies to keep everyone healthy- especially those who are not yet able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Read more about how these strategies work together.
Check this page often for the latest information on FCPS’ commitment to safety and how you can help.
We all have a part to play in how we return strong and stay strong all year. The most essential thing we can do is keep our schools safe and healthy places to learn.
Masks are an essential tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting those unable to be vaccinated. Research shows proper masking is the most effective mitigation strategy to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools where social distancing may not be possible and vaccination may not be available for all. Masking is adequate to prevent transmission in situations with less than three feet of social distance and on full-capacity buses.
Therefore, masks are required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, inside FCPS buildings and on buses.
Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, will wear masks indoors, unless alone in an office or room. Outdoor masking is recommended for those who are unvaccinated in crowded settings.
There are some situations in school when students and staff are permitted to remove their masks, including:
When actively eating or drinking (if eating indoors, individuals are required to put their masks back on when not actually eating or drinking)
When outside (e.g. outdoor recess, outdoor physical education, outdoor instructional groups; anyone not fully vaccinated is recommended, but not required, to wear a mask in crowded settings)
Schools will use outdoor eating and instructional areas to increase opportunities for physical distancing as permitted by space, weather, and supervision. While FCPS is unable to implement full physical distancing in our schools with the return of 99.5% of our students, we will implement it to the best of our ability when space permits.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal indoor masking for everyone regardless of vaccine status.
The Virginia Department of Health advises that elementary schools should implement a requirement that students, teachers, and staff wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, until a vaccination is available for children under 12 years old and there has been sufficient time to allow for children younger than 12 years old to be fully vaccinated.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a continued focus on layered prevention strategies, including universal mask wearing for all staff and students over the age of two.
The Fairfax County Health Department, in alignment with other regional health departments, recommends universal masking when there is no monitoring system in place for vaccine status and/or monitoring or enforcing mask policies that are not universal.
Buses and Transportation
The CDC federal order requiring masks be worn on public transportation remains in effect and applies to buses operated by Virginia public schools.
Social Distancing in Schools
By now, we all know that social distancing is a key safety measure in preventing the spread of COVID-19. But, adequate social distancing may not always be possible in schools. Wearing a mask means we can safely be a little closer when necessary.
When Do You Wear Your Mask?
Wearing a Mask Correctly
The Student Health and Safety Document is continually updated and provides detailed information on school policies and protocols related to COVID-19 such as adherence to layered mitigation strategies. These guidance documents will continue to be updated to align with public health guidance.
The most important thing we can all do to keep our schools safe and open all year is to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as we are eligible. Vaccines are safe, effective, available, and free.
The CDC uses a benchmark of 70% as their target vaccination rate for community protection. Vaccination rates for students 12 and older have not reached that target yet, and those under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination. Wearing masks provides a proven layer of protection when vaccination rates have not reached the 70% percent goal.
By late October, all FCPS employees will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to routine negative COVID-19 tests, a move that reinforces existing layered prevention strategies and the division’s commitment to safety.
Beginning November 8, FCPS will require proof of full COVID-19 vaccination for any student participating in Virginia High School League (VHSL) winter and spring sports for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year. Proof of full COVID-19 vaccination will also be required for participation in any other activity that requires a physical. This includes dance team and step team, as well as out-of-season practices and workouts. View the questions and answers about the vaccination requirement for athletics.
Daily Vaccination Rates
The Fairfax County Health Department updates vaccination rates daily on the COVID-19 Vaccination Dashboard.
How Can You Get Vaccinated?
You can schedule an appointment for COVID-19 vaccination or find out about pop-up clinics near you through the Fairfax County Health Department’s website.
COVID-19 vaccines are also available at doctor’s offices, health departments, and retail pharmacies. Vaccines.gov is a helpful resource to find a location near you.
Screen for Illness Every Day, Stay Home When Sick
One of the most important prevention strategies guidelines is screening students daily for any signs of illness prior to leaving home for school. Any student who is ill or presents with COVID-like symptoms is to remain at home. The daily health screening questionnaire and all translated versions can be found on our Health and Safety Guidance document . This document provides the details of the policies and protocols related to COVID-19, and it is continually updated to align with public health guidance as it evolves during the school year. Daily completion of the health screening is done on an honor basis and does not need to be sent to the school.
Read more about checking for symptoms and how to prepare to return to school after illness.
COVID-19 Exposure Protocols
If there is an exposure in schools, the school will notify affected families. The Fairfax County Health Department is responsible for contact tracing.
Contact Tracing and Quarantining
If there is an exposure in schools, the school will notify affected families. View the details on a Response to a COVID Positive Case at School. The Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) is responsible for contact tracing. Students will be temporarily paused to allow time for FCPS and FCHD to investigate and determine next steps, which may include instruction to quarantine or return to the classroom and normal activity. View the Guidance for Parents of School-aged Children provided by the Fairfax County Health Department.
To better understand the process, watch this video or read more.
Student and Staff COVID-19 Testing
The FCPS administration is in the process of partnering with a third-party provider to provide access to screening testing among other health service supports for FCPS students and staff. We recognize that screening testing of individuals who are not fully vaccinated is important given the recent surge of the Delta variant. We look forward to sharing details regarding this emerging partnership soon.
In addition to the emerging partnership for screening testing described above, we continue to partner with the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) to provide diagnostic testing for symptomatic, in-person students or staff who are unable to access testing independently. The partnership for diagnostic testing for in-person students and staff who need support was established during the 2020-21 school year and will continue as we start the 2021-22 school year.
Plans in Place If Temporary COVID-19 Closure Needed
FCPS is committed to continuity of learning during the 2021-22 school year and the school division is using layered prevention strategies to do everything possible to ensure our schools remain safe, healthy and open.
FCPS has plans in place to ensure continuity of learning in the event health authorities require a temporary closure to protect the health of students, staff, and the community. Find out more about Protocols for Potential Temporary COVID-19 Closure.