2021-2022 School Year Frequently Asked Questions – Updated September 21, 2021
Need vaccine? Learn how to get your shot at Vaccinate.Virginia.gov or call 1-877-VAX-IN VA. Monday-Friday 8am - 6pm. Virginia Relay users dial 7-1-1.
¿Necesitas vacunarte? Enterate como conseguir tu vacuna Vaccinate.Virginia.gov o llamando al 1-877-829-4682. lunes-viernes 8am a 6pm. Virginia Relay pueden marcar al 7-1-1.
2021-2022 COVID-19 Prevention Guidance and Requirements for Schools
Safely returning to and maintaining in-person instruction during the 2021-22 school year is a shared priority of the Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Department of Education and school divisions around the Commonwealth. Together, the following requirements and guidance documents are informing local policies and mitigation strategies to keep students and staff safe throughout the school year.
State law in Virginia requires all public schools to offer in-person instruction to students during the 2021-2022 school year in accordance with recommended CDC mitigation strategies, to the greatest extent practicable. The new law permits temporary school closures only necessary in the context of controlling spread associated with increased impact to school such as increased cases or outbreaks. Schools may, at their discretion, also offer virtual instruction to students throughout the year.
Additionally, the State Health Commissioner issued a Public Health Order requiring all students, teachers, staff, and visitors age 2 and older to wear a mask indoors in private and public PreK-12 school settings, regardless of vaccination status. The Center for Disease Control federal order requiring masks be worn on public transportation remains in effect and does apply to school buses.
Finally, a variety of guidance documents issued by the CDC, VDH and VDOE continue to be revised regularly to ensure divisions, parents and communities have the latest information. These include but are not limited to:
- The Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Virginia PreK-12 Schools
- CDC Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools
- Other VDH K-12 Resources
- Other CDC Resources for Schools
Frequently Asked Questions
The following FAQs are intended to answer additional questions and provide detailed information on a variety of topics of interest for the 2021-2022 school year. They are organized in the following categories:
- Masks, Vaccines, School Testing and Virginia’s COVID Guidance for Schools
- Resources for School Administrators and School Nurses
- Federal Pandemic Relief Funding and Programs
- Early Childhood Guidance and Resources
- Instructional Resources
- Student Supports and Services
Masks, Vaccines, School Testing and Virginia’s COVID Guidance for Schools
1. What COVID-19 guidance should schools follow during the 2021-2022 school year?
Virginia law requires all divisions to offer a fulltime in-person option to all students throughout the 2021-2022 school year. Divisions may offer virtual options for students at their discretion.
Virginia law requires that school boards provide in-person instruction in the 2021-2022 school year in adherence, to the maximum extent practicable, with applicable Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mitigation strategies.
The CDC Guidance is best used together with Virginia’s Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in PreK-12 Schools and COVID-19 Resources provided by the U.S. Department of Education.
The Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Virginia PreK-12 Schools-This is a PDF document. helps officials assess the risk of introduction and transmission of COVID-19 in schools, and is intended to help school leaders and public health officials select appropriate, layered prevention strategies and understand how to safely transition learning environments out of pandemic precautions as community transmission of COVID-19 reaches low levels or stops occurring.
2. Are masks required in schools this year? On school buses?
Yes, on August 12, the State Health Commissioner issued a Public Health Order-This is a PDF document. requiring all students, teachers, staff, and visitors age 2 and older to wear a mask indoors in private and public PreK-12 school settings, regardless of vaccination status. This is consistent with the latest recommendations from the CDC for mask use by students and staff in school settings regardless of vaccination status; and the rapidly growing number of COVID cases in Virginia, largely attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant.
The Order applies to both public and private schools, and applies to all individuals age 2 and older inside school buildings, participating in instructional and extracurricular activities. The Order includes a variety of exemptions, as had been previously included. Exemptions include:
- Individuals eating, drinking, or sleeping;
- Individuals exercising or using exercise equipment;
- Any person who is playing a musical instrument when wearing a mask would inhibit the playing of the instrument (e.g., wind or brass instrument) so long as at least six feet of physical distance can be maintained from other persons;
- Any person who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance;
- Any person who has a disability or meets at-risk criteria or those assisting such persons, including individuals with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan under the Rehabilitation Act, where wearing a mask would inhibit communication or the receiving of services.
- When necessary to participate in a religious ritual; and
- Persons with health conditions or disabilities that prohibit wearing a mask. Nothing in this Order shall require the use of a mask by any person for whom doing so would be contrary to his or her health or safety because of a medical condition. Adaptations and alternatives for individuals with health conditions or disabilities should be considered whenever possible to increase the feasibility of wearing a mask to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading if it is not possible to wear one.
The Order also states: Any person who declines to wear a mask because of a medical condition or any person with a sincerely held religious objection to wearing masks in school may request a reasonable accommodation.
The VDH has posted FAQs specific to this public health order-This is a PDF document..
Additionally, the CDC federal order requiring masks be worn on public transportation remains in effect and does apply to school buses.
The Order is a complement to state law requiring school boards to provide in-person instruction in public schools in a way that adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to CDC mitigation strategies.
3. Are masks required during School Board Meetings?
Yes, if the meeting is held indoors at a school. The State Health Commissioner issued a Public Health Order-This is a PDF document. requiring all students, teachers, staff, and visitors age 2 and older to wear a mask indoors in private and public PreK-12 school settings, regardless of vaccination status. This includes private religious schools.
If the meeting is held at other locations, the Order does not apply. But during times of substantial or high transmission, public health recommends that all persons wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. Virginia is currently experiencing a high level of community transmission.
4. Are vaccines required for students or staff?
Virginia does not currently require COVID-19 vaccines for students or school staff; but local divisions may choose to require the vaccine of school staff as a matter of employment. Additionally, some divisions are requiring student vaccinations in order to participate in athletics.
Virginia school division staff will likely be covered under forthcoming federal vaccination requirements from OSHA. This requirement is not yet in place and additional information is forthcoming.
Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccinating teachers, school staff, and students when eligible for vaccination is a critical layer of prevention and protection for all. Achieving high levels of vaccination among eligible students, teachers and staff is one of the most critical strategies to help schools safely operate.
For more about the COVID-19 vaccine, and where to find a free one near you, please visit https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine/
5. What guidance is there for athletes and spectators of school sports?
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has issued guidance related to recreational and school-based athletics, available online here. With regard to masks, they recommend the following:
- Indoors: If tolerable, wear a mask while playing indoor sports, especially any sport that involves close contact. At K-12 schools, masks are not required when exercising, but should still be worn if possible when engaging in active sports play. Anyone (age 2 and up) should wear a mask on the sideline, in the locker room, or in the stands when in a school or when transmission levels are substantial or high.
- Outdoors: Playing outdoor sports is generally safer than indoors. Unvaccinated athletes, coaches, officials, and spectators should strongly consider wearing masks, especially if close contact is likely to occur. Fully vaccinated people might also consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor spaces if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised.
However, the Virginia High School League (VHSL) governs athletic competitions and local school divisions may have their own policies in place (such as vaccine requirements for athletes or mask mandates for outdoor spectators).
6. What is the definition of close contact in a school setting?
Close contact means:
- Being within 6 feet of a person who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, or
- Having direct exposure to respiratory secretions (e.g., being coughed or sneezed on, sharing a drinking glass or utensils, kissing), or
- Caring for a person who has COVID-19, or
- Living with a person who has COVID-19.
The CDC established an exception to this definition for schools. In indoor and outdoor K-12 settings, a student who was within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student is not considered a close contact as long as both students wore well-fitting masks the entire time.
According to VDH Guidance, this exception may now also be applied to school buses when the following criteria are met:
- Documented seating charts, and
- Assurance that masks are worn and students remain in assigned seats, either via
- video monitoring if available, or attestation from the bus driver or monitor.
Students who were less than 3 feet apart for a total of 15 minutes or more are considered close contacts, even if both students wore masks. The K-12 exception does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults. This means that the standard close contact definition is applied when assessing exposure in a K-12 setting that involves a student with an infected adult or an exposed adult. VDH will continue to monitor the science regarding the effectiveness of this close contact definition and the associated K-12 exception, and will update guidance as necessary.
7. What happens if a student or staff is exposed to COVID-19 in schools?
Schools will be working with local health departments to conduct contract tracing, and provide guidance on appropriate steps and quarantines following an exposure to an individual with COVID-19 in a school setting. Depending on local health conditions and school policies, students and staff may have to quarantine for up to 14 days. Please consult your local division for more information.
For more information about contact tracing in schools and what do to if you or someone you know was exposed, please visit the VDH site:
- What to expect with a school-based COVID exposure-This is a PDF document.
- What to do if you were potentially exposed to COVID-19
- Contact Tracing in K-12 Schools-This is a PDF document.
8. Are schools conducting diagnostic or screening testing in Virginia?
This is a local option, so it depends on the school and/or division. CDC, VDH and VDOE strongly recommend COVID-19 screening testing in schools as an important mitigation strategy, intended to be combined or layered with other prevention strategies such as masking, vaccination, and physical distancing. Therefore, the VDH and VODE have partnered on a new COVID-19 testing program for the 2021 - 2022 school year, called Virginia School Screening Testing for Assurance (ViSSTA). ViSSTA is federally funded and will provide testing vendors, supplies, and staffing to support an end-to-end COVID-19 testing experience with the goal of maximizing resources available to schools to navigate full in-person instruction in the fall and minimizing added responsibilities to existing school staff.
9. What guidance has the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provided for schools and students?
The AAP has issued guidance for keeping students in school safely online here. Additionally, the Virginia Chapter of AAP has developed a website dedicated to the health and safety of students for the 2021-22 school year. This site includes resources for parents and school administrators, medical providers and nurses, and mental health resources.
Resources for School Administrators and School Nurses
10. What are school divisions required to do to protect staff from COVID-19?
School divisions are subject to theStandard for Infectious Disease Prevention of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus That Causes COVID-19-This is a PDF document., issued by the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board. The most recent version became effective September 8, 2021.
The amended Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) Standard includes requirements for all employers as well as specific requirements for higher-risk workplaces (16VAC25-220-60, page 37). The Standard also requires employers with higher-risk workplaces to create a written Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan (16VAC25-220-70, page 44) and requires training (16VAC25-220-80, page 47) of certain employees as well.
11. What policy waivers are in place for divisions for the 2021-2022 school year?
Throughout the pandemic, the state has issued a variety of PreK-12 waivers from state law, budget and regulation. However, the authority of the State Superintendent to issue waivers has now expired. Below are previous waivers, and the limited few that remain in effect through June 30, 2022.
State-Level Waivers and Relief Measures in Effect per Chapters 1283 and 1289-This is a Word document. provides an up-to-date list of such measures that were approved by the Secretary of Education and were in effect until June 30, 2021.
State-Level Waivers and Relief Measures in Effect per Chapter 552-This is a Word document. provides an up-to-date list of such measures that were approved by the Secretary of Education and are currently in effect through June 30, 2022. This list does include those waivers and relief measures that would have expired on June 30, 2021 but were renewed based on new authority. This document will be updated as new measures are approved.
12. What other resources are available for school administrators with regard to the implementation of mitigation strategies and communicating with staff, students and families?
The VDOE and VDH collaborated on a Healthy Back to School website and campaign with lots of information for parents and schools on returning students safely back to in-person learning.
VDH has posted a number of COVID-related printable signage toolkits for elementary, middle and high schools.
Additionally, VDH has a communication hub available for PreK-12 schools, accessible upon request, to assist with communications to parents. The hub includes flyers, videos, editable documents, and other communication resources designed specifically for PreK-12 schools. School administrators should contact Ken Blackstone, VDOE Executive Director of Communications, at email@example.com for access information.
13. Where can school nurses and other school health staff access COVID related resources?
School health staff can find COVID related resources on the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) K-12 website, the VDOE School Health Services webpage or the VDH Back to School webpage. School Health Specialists from VDH and VDOE provide a calendar of upcoming meetings and COVID related training.
Additionally, VDH has posted a number of COVID-related printable signage toolkits for elementary, middle and high schools.
14. Can a division use unscheduled remote learning days in the event of a COVID-related school closure?
Yes, House Bill 1790 and Senate Bill 1132, passed by the 2021 General Assembly, allows for the use of up to ten unscheduled remote learning days (full or partial) to apply to the 180-day or 990-hour teaching time requirement when the closure is due to severe weather conditions or other emergency situations. In fulfillment of the requirement, the VDOE has finalized its Guidance for Unscheduled Remote Learning Days-This is a PDF document. for the equitable provision of services and application of this new law in light of COVID-related closures.
15. What guidance does the VDOE have on attendance policies?
Attendance policy is a local matter. Superintendent’s Memo 188-20-This is a Word document. was issued on July 24, 2020 with guidance for divisions on how to develop attendance policies that reflect the unique instructional models (virtual or in-person) based on their individual student needs and capacities.
16. What flexibility is there with regard to Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and teacher licensure?
Much of the flexibility related to teacher licensure has expired with the expiration of the state of emergency. However, until January 1, 2022, any individual seeking initial licensure or license renewal and who has completed all other components of training in emergency first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and the use of automated external defibrillators shall be relieved of the requirement to have hands-on practice of the skills necessary to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation for the purpose of their licensure application (§ 22.1-298.1.D)
More information can be found on the VDOE Teacher Licensure page.
Do note however, that CPR training, first aid and use of automated external defibrillators continues to be a requirement for designated school health staff per 8VAC20-131-260. The American Red Cross and the American Heart Association provide online training resources and offer guidance on the hands-on component of this certification process. Check with your CPR credentialing agency regarding changes and updates.
Federal Pandemic Relief Funding and Programs
17. Where can I learn more about Virginia’s Federal Pandemic Relief funding and programming?
Several federally-funded programs have been authorized to support public and non-public schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. The overarching purpose of these programs is to address the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools in Virginia.
Please visit the VDOE Federal Pandemic Relief Program page for more information about the various programs and their usages.
The Virginia State Plan for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, required under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), is also available-This is a PDF document. on the U.S. Department of Education website-This is a PDF document..
18. Can ESSER formula funds for divisions be used to pay Virtual Virginia enrollment fees?
Yes, this is an allowable use of ESSER LEA formula funds. As families determine which mode of instruction is best for their students, it is possible that a student may leave the Virtual Virginia program to return to face-to-face instruction during the course of the semester. In this instance, it is still permissible to use ESSER funds to pay the student’s Virtual Virginia enrollment fee.
19. Can ESSER LEA formula funds be used to pay for construction?
Yes, this is an allowable use of ESSER LEA formula funds. The broad Impact Aid definition of “construction” includes new construction as well as remodeling, alterations, renovations, and repairs under which many activities related to COVID-19 would likely fall. However, per U.S. Department of Education guidance-This is a PDF document., using ESSER and GEER funds for new construction is discouraged because this use of funds may limit an LEA’s ability to support other essential needs or initiatives. Remodeling, renovation, and new construction are often time-consuming, which may not be workable under the shorter timelines associated with ESSER and GEER funds. These types of activities must receive prior approval from the SEA and are subject to several additional Federal requirements.
For more information on the federal requirements for construction projects and the VDOE prior approval procedures, LEAs should refer to the ESSER Spending Guidance Overview-This is a PPT presentation. and the ESSER and GEER Construction Prior Approval Form-This is a Word document. on the Federal Pandemic Relief Programs webpage. Questions should be directed to VDOEfederalrelief@doe.virginia.gov.
20. Can ESSER LEA formula funds be used to provide COVID-19 vaccinations, including as incentives?
Yes, the U.S. Department of Education guidance on ESSER and GEER spending-This is a PDF document. states that funds may be used to provide COVID-19 vaccinations for school division staff and students, including providing incentives. Because ESSER and GEER funds may be used to implement public health protocols including, to the greatest extent practicable, policies in line with guidance from the CDC for the reopening and operation of school facilities to effectively maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff, providing COVID-19 vaccinations is an allowable use of ESSER and GEER funds. Allowable vaccination outreach efforts in general could include activities to create awareness and build confidence, facilitate clinics, and provide incentives such as paid time off for staff to get vaccinated. In cases where administrative fees are required to obtain a vaccination, ESSER or GEER funds may be used to offset the cost as long as the cost is reasonable.
Early Childhood Guidance and Resources
21. What COVID-19 guidance should early childhood programs and providers follow during the 2021-2022 school year?
The VDOE is now responsible for overseeing child care and early childhood programs.
Guidance for child care and family day homes can be found on the COVID-19 Update and Resources for Child Care VA Page. This page includes the most recent guidance for providers on safely operating during the pandemic. Additionally, the VDH has issued guidance for providers on when and how to collaborate with local health directors-This is a PDF document. on COVID-related matters.
Information for Virginia Preschool Initiative and other school-based programs can be found on the VDOE’s early childhood page.
The VDH has also published child care related resources such as letter templates, resources for parents and contact tracing information on their website.
Finally, the Virginia LEARNS workgroup developed instructional resources and guidance for early learners, available online here.
For more information and resources, please visit the VDOE’s early childhood page.
22. What guidance and resources does the VDOE have on instruction in the wake of school closures and disruptions?
A year into the COVID-19 pandemic the VDOE brought together a variety of stakeholders – the Virginia LEARNS workgroup – to use information collected and compiled from many sources to create a guidance document for school divisions. The workgroup focused on equity, wellbeing, and instructional issues including curriculum, assessment and remediation, recovery and interventions.
The Virginia LEARNS workgroup produced a number of long form and short form resources to support schools throughout the 2021-22 school year, with keen attention on addressing learning gaps exacerbated by the pandemic and to the mental health needs of students and staff.
The Virginia LEARNS resources build upon the Recover, Redesign, Restart 2020 work.
23. What guidance and resources does the VDOE have on virtual instruction?
The VDOE has created a Virtual Learning Hub with resources for divisions and teachers related to virtual learning. This includes the Virtual Education in Virginia: A Collection of Supports & Resources-This is a PDF document., which provides support for Virginia school divisions with implementation and administration of successful virtual education programs.
Information is also available about Virtual Virginia, a statewide virtual learning program offered via school divisions by the VDOE.
Additionally, Senate Bill 1303, passed by the 2021 General Assembly, requires in-person learning in Virginia for the 2021-2022 school year and tasks the VDOE with establishing benchmarks for successful virtual learning, guidelines for providing interventions to students who fail to meet such benchmarks, and guidance for transitioning such students back to in-person instruction. In fulfillment of that mandate and to support local school divisions in their efforts to provide high-quality instruction across any modality, the Department has finalized its Guidance for Successful Virtual Learning-This is a PDF document..
Student Support Services
24. What resources does VDOE have related to social-emotional well-being of students and staff in light of COVID-19?
The VDOE has worked with school divisions to ensure access to supporting school-based mental health through pandemic relief funding as well as resources and support of implementation of social emotional learning in Virginia’s public schools. VDOE established a uniform definition of social-emotional learning and developed the Virginia Guidance SEL Standards for all public students in grades Kindergarten through 12 in the Commonwealth as well as additional resources available on the VDOE website.
The VDOE has also partnered with the Center for Implementation and Evaluation of Education Systems at Old Dominion University to develop the Student Services Learning Resource Center. This website is a one-stop professional development and resource collection for specialized instructional support personnel such as school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, school nurses, and administrators.
25. What guidance does the VDOE have for serving students with disabilities?
- COVID-19: A Parent Guide for School-Age Children
- COVID-19: Una Guía para Padres de Niños en Edad Escolar
- VDOE Considerations for COVID Recovery Services for Students with Disabilities
- Special Education Students After COVID-19 Key Considerations
26. What services are available to post-secondary students with disabilities?
Pursuant to action by the general assembly, students with disabilities who turned 22 after September 30, 2020, and were scheduled to complete high school in the spring of 2021, shall be given the option for an extension to attend high school for the duration of the 2021-2022 school year. More information can be found in Superintendents Memo #248-21.-This is a PDF document.
27. What resources are available for school nutrition programs?
The VDOE school nutrition team has published a 2021-2022 School Year Toolkit for-This is a Word document. school nutrition programs.
Additional resources can be found on the VDOE school nutrition page-This is a Word document..
28. What about homebound instruction for students?
Local school divisions must make Homebound Instruction available to students who are confined at home or in a health care facility for periods that would prevent normal school attendance based upon certification of need by a licensed physician or licensed clinical psychologist. Homebound instruction is designed to provide continuity of educational services between the classroom and home or health care facility, for students whose medical needs, both physical and psychiatric, do not allow school attendance for a limited period of time.
Eligibility for homebound instructional services should be a collaborative decision between the treating health care provider, parent/guardian, and school personnel. Prior to requesting homebound services, the parent/guardian should explore options for virtual or school-based instruction with school personnel. If homebound services are needed, approval of services is based upon a completed medical certification of need. The medical certification of need is the health care provider’s documentation of the student’s illness, treatment plan, and the estimated length of recovery time. The certification must be fully completed, including parental permission to contact the treating physician or licensed clinical psychologist, in order for the student to be considered for homebound services.
Students physically or mentally able to fully engage in a school division's virtual learning program do not meet eligibility to receive homebound instruction.
More information can be found in the VDOE document on homebound services: Essential Considerations for Safe and Effective Homebound Delivery-This is a Word document..