Virginia’s Interim Guidance for Reopening Prek-12 Schools (March 2021)
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On March 23, 2021 Virginia updated its guidance for PreK-12 schools, now titled Interim Guidance: Operational Strategy and Phased Prevention for Virginia PreK-12 Schools-This is a PDF document.. The update was made to incorporate changes made in the CDC’s guidance as it relates to physical distancing in schools
On March 19, 2021 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation to permit for 3 feet of physical distancing in certain school circumstances, with universal mask use. The CDC Guidance now recommends the following with regard to physical distancing:
- Between students in classrooms
- In elementary schools, students should be at least 3 feet apart.
- In middle schools and high schools, students should be at least 3 feet apart in areas of low, moderate, or substantial community transmission. In areas of high community transmission, middle and high school students should be 6 feet apart if cohorting is not possible.
- Maintain 6 feet of distance in the following settings:
- Between adults (teachers and staff), and between adults and students, at all times in the school building. Several studies have found that transmission between staff is more common than transmission between students and staff, and among students, in schools.
- When masks cannot be worn, such as when eating.
- During activities when increased exhalation occurs, such as singing, shouting, band, or sports and exercise. Move these activities outdoors or to large, well-ventilated space, when possible.
- In common areas such as school lobbies and auditoriums.
Virginia’s school guidance document is intended to help officials assess the risk of introduction and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in schools, and inform decisions about school operations and the implementation of necessary mitigation strategies.
Key Elements of the Revised Interim Guidance
- A step-by-step guide to considering reopening decisions
- CDC Indicators and Thresholds for evaluating community transmission (Note: corresponding updates to indicators and thresholds have also been made to the VDH School Metrics Data)
- A decision matrix for school reopening and phase mitigation
Safely reopening schools is a guiding principle of the Virginia Revised Interim Guidance. Success in preventing COVID-19 transmission in school settings begins with and is connected to preventing transmission in communities. However, at any level of community transmission, as long as impact to a school remains favorable, all schools have options to provide in-person instruction (either full or hybrid), with strict adherence to mitigation strategies.
CDC’s Operational Strategy and the Virginia Revised Interim Guidance recommend a phased approach to applying instructional modality (e.g., in-person, hybrid, virtual), grouped by elementary vs. middle/high school, depending on the level of community transmission and adherence to mitigation strategies. Schools and communities should use a “classroom-first” approach: to minimize risk of transmission in schools and protect in-person learning, in-person instruction should be prioritized over extracurricular activities including sports and school events, as these events are a common source of school transmission.
A school division’s capacity to successfully implement mitigation strategies, level of impact to a school (if open to in-person instruction), AND local community disease data should be carefully factored into school operations plans. Schools that have been open to in-person instruction can evaluate the level of impact to a school through considering their unique experience, ability to implement mitigation strategies, and effective containment of disease transmission. The CDC indicators and thresholds serve to inform decision making, but should not solely dictate the decisions that school divisions make to best serve their communities.
Even when a school carefully plans and prepares, during a pandemic, cases of COVID-19 still may occur. It is not possible to eliminate all risk of disease in community settings, such as schools. Students and staff most at risk of serious complications from COVID-19 should continue to have remote learning and working options. But the risks of not opening schools need to be carefully considered and given proper weight. Long-term school closures as a mitigation strategy for COVID-19 transmission may cause inadvertent harm to children; for example, children who do not have in-person instruction may suffer learning loss with long-term effects, mental health issues, or a regression in social skills.
The Revised Interim Guidance-This is a PDF document. provides divisions with decision matrices and essential questions and considerations to be used as they plan for reopening schools in 2021.
- VDH Pandemic Dashboard – Including Application of CDC Indicators to the Virginia Context (Updated to reflect CDC Indicators recommended as of 2/12/2021)
- CDC Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation
- Other VDH K-12 Resources
- Other CDC Resources for Schools
- Interim VDH Guidance for Mitigation Measures in K12 Settings (now retired)-This is a PDF document.
- Phase Guidance for Virginia Schools (now retired)-This is a PDF document.
- Recover, Redesign, Restart – A Comprehensive Guide for School Leaders-This is a PDF document.