Return to School 2021 - Your Questions Answered

Everything you need to know about return to school

With respect to Fall 2021 Health and Safety practices, FCPS will continue to follow the guidance put forth by clinical researchers and medical providers from the Centers for Disease Control, Virginia Department of Health, and the Fairfax County Health Department to ensure the safest classrooms possible. Following are some commonly asked questions and answers.  

Academically Strong

What is the plan to address learning considering summer school didn’t happen for many children?

More than 36,000 students have been receiving additional academic support through FCPS’ comprehensive summer programs. Teachers and staff will be prepared to address and support students’ specific needs when the new school year begins on August 23. A full Academic Support Plan, tied to FCPS’ proposed ESSER III spending plan, will be a significant investment of funding and resources that will ensure our students have the support they need to thrive this school year and beyond. 

Athletics

Will students be able to participate in athletics this fall? What safety measures are in place?

Yes, students will participate in athleticsl. Health and safety protocols for athletics include:

Vaccinations

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. Read the Questions and Answers

Masks

  • Outdoor activities – masks not required
  • Indoor activities – masks required for coaches and all players who are not participating in the activity
    • This applies to all practices, games and outdoor sports coming indoors for practices
    • This applies to students and staff
  • Masks are currently being worn while on a school bus; that practice will follow transportation guidelines.

Water

Students and coaches will provide their own water in individual containers. Each will need to have a minimum of 32 ounces; more is recommended based on individual need and the demands of the sport.

Screening

Pre-activity screening is required for students and coaches using the Google screening mechanism.

Equipment

Cleaning and disinfection protocols will be the same as in the previous sports season.

Illness/COVID Case Reporting

The same procedures as last school year remain in place.

Contact Tracing

What do students need to do while contact tracing occurs?

Students will be paused for a short period of time while FCPS and the health department investigate and determine the safest way to address a positive case in our school community. Read more about the process.  View the Guidance for Parents of School-aged Children provided by the Fairfax County Health Department.  

When contact tracing, how will those involved know if students were engaged in consistent and correct usage of well-fitting masks?

Schools will collaborate with state and local health departments, to the extent allowable by privacy laws and other applicable laws to confidentially provide information about people diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19. This allows identifying which students, teachers, and staff with positive COVID-19 test results should isolate, and which close contacts (see definition for "close contacts" in the question below) should quarantine

Should an individual or group be directed to quarantine, plans are in place to ensure continuity of learning.

Consistent and correct mask use is an important prevention strategy in the fight against COVID-19. Our staff and students are provided training on how to correctly wear a mask. Our training video is available to the public, and we encourage parents to review our mask training video with their students before school starts. Confirming the proper use of masks in the classroom is important for the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) during contact tracing and investigation. FCPS provides the FCHD with a variety of information sources, and the FCHD conducts interviews with multiple employees and students to confirm the accuracy of the information provided. See the question below for more details about an exception for contact tracing in the K–12 setting.  

What is the new exception for close contacts in a K-12 school?

A close contact is any person, regardless of vaccination status, who is within 6 feet of a COVID-19 positive individual for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. However, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) provides for a K-12 Exception. According to the VDH guideline, close contact applies to students wearing masks who were within 3 feet or less of a student COVID case in the indoor or outdoor K-12 classroom setting for a cumulative amount of 15 minutes or more within 24 hours. 

This exception does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in the indoor/outdoor classroom setting.

View this short video for a complete description of a close contact. View the video en español - Terminos de COVID: Contacto cercano. (Note: After the videos were produced,  FCPS began following the new VDH guideline for the K-12 Exception that includes  "outdoors in the K-12 setting," in addition to the classroom setting. 

View this short video for a complete description of a close contact. View the video en español - Terminos de COVID: Contacto cercano. (Note: After the videos were produced,  FCPS began following the new VDH guideline for the K-12 Exception that includes "outdoors in the K-12 setting," in addition to the classroom setting. 

COVID-19 Closures

When will FCPS consider closing schools?

FCPS, like every school division in Virginia, is mandated to provide in-person learning this fall. This approach is supported by the Fairfax County Board. We continue to believe that all students do better in person in school. 

FCPS will continue to watch health data to stay informed of changing conditions. We all play an important role in creating the environment that supports five days a week of in-person instruction.

Vaccination rates among our 12-18 year old population are strong. To keep that trend going and in anticipation of a lowering of the vaccination age, we are establishing vaccination clinics in dozens of schools. Widespread vaccination is one part of FCPS’ layered prevention strategies – which include universal masking – to keep our schools safe. 

Students benefit from in-person learning. Safely returning to and maintaining in-person instruction during the 2021-22 school year is a priority

FCPS has plans in place to ensure continuity of learning in the event health authorities or an Executive Order require a temporary closure to protect the health of students, staff, and the community.

Mask Guidance

Will students wear masks at lunch?

Students will be able to remove their masks at lunch while eating, but will put them back on when they are finished.

What benchmark will lead to a removal or revision of the universal masking policy?

FCPS will continue to review the mask policy and looks forward to eliminating the mask requirements for fully-vaccinated individuals when health officials deem it is safe to do so.

What accommodations are available for special education/IEP students for whom masks create learning or health challenges?

A small group of students with disabilities and staff who work with them will have access to clear masks (e.g. center-based students with hearing impairments, teachers of deaf/hard-of-hearing, speech language pathologists, and some students receiving speech services as needed).

Why do vaccinated students have to wear masks?

The CDC issued revised guidance on July 27 that included universal masking in K-12 schools. FCPS follows the guidance of the CDC and other national, state, and local health experts. We will continue to review our mask policy as guidance adjusts to the changing health situation locally and nationally.

Can vaccinated students show proof of vaccination and be exempt from the mask policy?

No, the mask policy is part of a layered prevention strategy necessary at this time. The latest data on the Delta variant shows that vaccinated individuals may be able to transmit the virus, even when symptom-free. The extra layer of protection that masks provide protects all students, especially those who are not eligible for vaccination at this time.

Why are masks not required when outdoors?

In general, people do not need to wear masks when outdoors. However, particularly in areas of substantial to high transmission, CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.

Will students need to maintain a distance of 6 or more feet when unmasked outdoors?

In general, the risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower when playing outdoors than in indoor settings. People do not need to wear masks when outdoors (e.g., participating in outdoor play, recess, and physical education activities). However, particularly in areas of substantial to high transmission levels, people who are not fully vaccinated are encouraged to wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated. When physical education activities or recess are held indoors, it is particularly important for people who are not fully vaccinated to wear masks and maximize distance when possible.

Where can I find information about mask exemptions for my child?

Aligned with guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has established procedures for the use of face coverings/masks (cloth or disposable) for students, staff, and visitors designed to mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and other identified infectious diseases during a health crisis. These requirements are outlined in Regulation 2109 (R2109), Face Coverings to Mitigate the Spread of Infectious Disease 

Can I request my child wears their mask during outdoor recess?

FCPS is following CDC guidance on masking and does not require masks to be worn outdoors, including during recess. Parents who have specific requests for their child can contact their school. Schools will make the best possible effort to ensure the parent’s request is followed when possible. Please understand schools cannot guarantee all requests will be able to be met.

School Meals

FCPS is committed to ensuring the health and safety of our staff and students throughout the entire school day, including lunchtime, when students will not be able to wear masks while eating.

We know that the situation at lunchtime will look different when comparing schools, but we are committed to making sure the structure of lunchtime works at every school. 

  • Elementary Students Only (Updated) - Elementary schools are to provide seating charts to minimize the number of potential close contacts while masks are removed. This is a NEW prevention strategy for elementary given elementary students are generally not age-eligible for the vaccine.
  • Students will be required to wear masks in the cafeteria when not actively eating and drinking.
  • Students will need to wear their masks while going through the serving line. 
  • Students will put their masks back on when they finish their meals. 
  • Cafeteria spaces will be regularly and thoroughly cleaned with a sanitizing solution. 
  • It is recommended that students wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer before and after eating.
  • FCPS Food Nutrition Services works closely with the Fairfax County Health Department to ensure proper food safety and sanitation. 

All students will be offered no cost breakfast and lunch for the entire school year. Menus will be available online beginning August 18. 

Watch the Return-School/Food page for updates.  

Why Will Lunch Look Different at Every School?
The size of every school cafeteria is different and the number of students at each school is different. Because most students (99.5%) will be back for in-person learning, physical distancing will not be possible in most classrooms, hallways or cafeterias. 

The physical layout of each cafeteria varies from school to school depending on size and student enrollment. Some schools (but not all) will have outdoor cafeteria spaces or options. These may be used on days when the weather is good. 

Students will not be required to face the same direction when eating lunch, as was the requirement last year. This kind of layout will simply not allow most cafeterias to accommodate all students without disrupting normal operations.

Physical distancing will not be possible in all circumstances when we return 99.5% of all students to school buildings. This includes some cafeterias. Schools will do their best to physically distance where space allows and when it does not disrupt normal operations.
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Will FCPS bring back full lunch service for the 2021-22 school year?

Yes, we do plan to offer hot lunches via serving lines this year. At this time, we are unable to offer salad bars.

Will students sit facing forward for lunch?

No, students will not be seated facing the same direction.

How will schools apply layered prevention strategies in the cafeteria?

Each school is different, so how cafeterias or other eating spaces are set up and how students will be seated and move through the space will be determined by the school. In all schools, students will be required to wear their masks unless they are eating and will sanitize their hands before and after meal times, and staff will sanitize tables.

What will be served?

FCPS Food Nutrition Services team is hard at work preparing menus for the school year. Menus will be available the week of August 16.

High school menus will be examples of all the options that may be served. Each FCPS high school creates their own menus designed to meet the needs and preferences of their students.

What if my child needs help?

Some of our students may be a bit nervous about how to navigate breakfast and lunch at school. For some younger students, this may be their first school meal experience. Teachers and Food Nutrition Services team members will be there to answer questions and guide students through the process so they can enjoy a healthy and tasty school meal.

How will the Free and Reduced Meals Program work this school year?

Enrolled students will be offered a nutritious meal for breakfast and lunch each day at no charge to the household. Households will not be required to submit a meal application form to receive meals at no charge; however other benefits may be connected to eligibility.  Applications are available online.

Is there anything families can do to prepare for school meals?

A la carte items will be phased in as capacity allows, but you can prepare in advance. Set up your student’s MySchoolBucks account and help them memorize their pin. If you have questions about MySchoolBucks, your school’s front office staff can help.

Screening and Testing

Will regular testing be a layered prevention strategy?

The FCPS administration is in the process of identifying a third-party provider to provide access to COVID 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 access to these services when a provider has been identified.

In addition to the emerging partnership for 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.

 

Symptom Assessment/Staying Home When Sick

My child has the sniffles, but no fever, should I send them to school?

Students, teachers, and staff should stay home when they have signs of any infectious illness and be referred to their healthcare provider for testing and care.

 


 

Vaccinations

Will FCPS require proof of vaccination for students?

The COVID-19 vaccine is not a required immunization, therefore FCPS cannot require proof of vaccination.  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.

Are FCPS staff required to be vaccinated?

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. Chaperones attending field trips are required to be vaccinated and adhere to wearing a mask.  

Will you be holding more vaccination clinics at your schools?

FCPS is working with the health department to provide additional vaccination clinics. We will share details on our website, in newsletters, and on social media.

Virtual Program

Can I enroll my student in FCPS' Virtual Program?

FCPS is excited to have all staff and students return in the fall for five days of in-person instruction. We believe that in-person learning is the best approach, and are focused on providing a safe and positive learning experience for all students. 

Eligibility for the Virtual Program is LIMITED and based on a documented COVID-19 related health/medical need of the student that is aligned to the CDC recommended criteria. Applications should be submitted with evidence of a documented medical need.

Students New to FCPS

  • Eligibility for the Virtual Program is LIMITED and will be based on a documented COVID-19 related health/medical need of the student. Family health/medical conditions will not be considered for this program. This eligibility is not extended to siblings or other students in a household.

  • If you have a student new to FCPS with a COVID-19 related health condition who would like to be considered for the Virtual Program, please contact your base school.

Current FCPS Students

  • Eligibility for the Virtual Program is LIMITED and based on a documented COVID-19 related health/medical need of the student that is aligned to the CDC recommended criteria. Applications should be submitted with evidence of a documented medical need.

  • Virtual Virginia is no longer accepting applications and is therefore not an option for virtual learning.

  • If you have a student that was enrolled prior to May 28, 2021 with a health/medical need that prevents attendance from school or concerns with returning to in-person learning, please contact your base school to discuss your options.

Note: Fairfax County Public Schools is not legally obligated to provide virtual instruction to students.