Back-to-school plans in DC, Maryland and Virginia: Where masks are required

As the region’s schools prepare to start classes, many were hoping for a more normal school year after the pandemic disrupted a significant amount of in-person learning in 2020 and spring 2021.

With the arrival of the delta variant and rising COVID-19 hospitalizations, many schools in the region are taking health safety precautions ahead of the 2021 fall semester.

Here’s how local school systems are handling the return of students.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available. 


DC

DC Public Schools 

D.C. Public Schools will be requiring all students, faculty and staff to wear a mask when inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status. The school system will put a particular emphasis on social distancing, requiring classes to keep as much space between students as possible.

Temperatures will not be taken upon arrival at school.

Classes start: Aug. 30


Maryland

Anne Arundel County Public Schools 

Anne Arundel County Public Schools will require everyone to wear a face mask inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status.

Classes start: Sept. 9

Baltimore City Public Schools 

Face coverings will be required indoors for everyone.

Anyone entering a Baltimore County public school will be required to complete a health screening process, including a temperature check and two health screening questions.

Students and teachers will be placed in separate groups — called “pods” — and if a member of a pod shows COVID-like symptoms or tests positive for the illness, the whole pod will be kept away from campus until it is deemed safe for them to return.

The school system said it is maximizing the amount of distance between students in classrooms while allowing for all students to return to in-person learning.

Classes start: Aug. 30

Baltimore County Public Schools 

Baltimore County Public Schools will require universal masking for students, staff, and
visitors in schools for the Fall of the 2021-22 school year. The current federal order for masks to be worn on school buses will continue

Classes start: Aug. 30

Calvert County Public Schools

Calvert County Public Schools will require all staff, students, and visitors in all schools PreK-12 to wear masks in school buildings regardless of vaccination status.

Classes start: Aug. 31

Charles County Public Schools 

Masks are required inside Charles County Public Schools and on county school buses regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.

Student athletes and coaches will be required to provide proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or participate in a free screening program. Those who do not show proof of vaccination or take part in the screenings will not be allowed to practice or play at games.

Classes start: Aug. 30

Frederick County Public Schools

Masks will be required for all students and staff inside school buildings. Because students are returning to class five days a week, the school system says social distancing is not possible.

Classes start: Aug. 18

Howard County Public Schools

Masks will be required for all students, staff and visitors in school buildings regardless of vaccination status.

All school employees will be required to show proof of full vaccination or go under regular COVID-19 testing during the school year, Howard County Public School System Superintendent Dr. Michael J. Martirano said on Aug. 12. Information on implementation procedures will be made available on a future date.

Classes start: Aug. 30

Montgomery County Public Schools

Masks will be required in school buildings regardless of vaccination status. They are not required outdoors but are strongly recommended for unvaccinated individuals.

Montgomery County is planning on having in-person instruction five days a week for most students, but will hold a Virtual Academy for students who applied and have been accepted into the program.

Teachers and staff must show proof of vaccination or must get tested regularly.

Montgomery County schools will provide in-school COVID-19 testing for random samples of students from prekindergarten through 6th grade, as well as introducing “SEL” or social-emotional learning lessons that will be integrated into the day for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Read more about the plans here.

Classes start: Aug. 30

Prince George’s County Public Schools

Students, teachers and staff will be required to wear masks in school buildings.

Prince George’s County is planning on having in-person, five days a week instruction for most students.

There are also plans for online learning; one, the Virtual Learning Program for children K-6, another, the Online Campus for students in 7th to 12th grades. At this time, Prince George’s County Public Schools says students are being added to the waitlist for both programs.

According to the PGCPS website, waitlist applications for elementary students are due by Aug. 20 and waitlist applications for secondary students — those in grades 7-12 — are due by Aug. 17.

Teachers and staff must show proof of vaccination or must get tested regularly.

Prince George’s County schools will work to provide social and emotional support for returning students.

Classes start: Sept. 8

St. Mary’s County Public Schools

St. Mary’s County Public Schools will require mask wearing during the school day and on buses.

Classes start: Aug. 30


Virginia

On Aug. 12, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued a universal mask mandate for all K-12 schools in the state regardless of vaccination status.

Alexandria Public Schools

Students and faculty will be required to wear masks inside all Alexandria City Public School facilities and in school vehicles.

The Alexandria City School Board voted Aug. 19 to require teachers and other staff members to receive the vaccine or submit to testing on a weekly basis, though the timeline as to when the new regulations would take effect remained unclear following the board’s meeting.

Anyone entering a school building will have their temperature read using an infrared thermometer or at a kiosk before they will be allowed in.

Classes start: Aug. 24

Arlington Public Schools

Arlington County Public Schools will require masks in buildings and on buses. Masks will not be required for outdoor recess.

Schools will be operating at normal capacity with no physical distancing enforcements.

The school system said it will operate on the “honor system” in regards to individuals reporting symptoms.

Arlington Public Schools and the county government implemented a vaccine mandate for employees, effective Aug. 30. All unvaccinated employees will be required to be tested at least weekly.

Classes start: Aug. 30

Culpeper County Public Schools 

Following Gov. Ralph Northam’s order that masks be worn in all public schools, Culpeper County Public Schools changed its previous position that masks would be optional. They are now required regardless of vaccination status. Medical or religious exemptions may be requested.

Classes start: Aug. 23

Fairfax County Public Schools

Fairfax County Public Schools will require all students and staff to wear a mask inside school buildings. Masks will not be required outside.

Adequate social distancing may not be possible.

All staff are required to be vaccinated or submit to regular weekly COVID-19 testing by late October.

Students and faculty are being asked to self-assess and stay home if they feel sick or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Classes start: Aug. 23

City of Falls Church

The City of Falls Church Public Schools will adopt an alternating-day format, with Monday being a teacher work day. The system said it can bring back all of its students and maintain six feet of social distance. To do this, it is planning a phased reopening of the two elementary schools in an effort to bring back 100% of its students.

“By doing a phased process we will have the ability to work with students in smaller groups to develop procedural routines, teach appropriate social distancing and hygiene protections, engage students in the “new normal” of sitting further from others, etc.,” the school system said. “We will evaluate how it is going in the latter part of September and if all is going smoothly, we are still in Phase III of the Governor’s plan, etc., we will begin to bring back all of our students.”

Classes start: Aug. 30

Fauquier County Public Schools 

Fauquier County Public Schools, effective Aug. 16, will require all staff members, visitors, and students to wear face masks at all times indoors, except while eating, drinking, at nap time, when exercising, or playing a musical instrument. This includes any FCPS workplace, school buildings, and while entering, exiting, and riding the school bus. Face coverings are optional for students and staff while participating in any activity outdoors. The new requirement is based on a Public Health Emergency Order issued by Gov. Northam requiring universal masking in all indoor settings in Virginia’s K-12 schools.

On Aug. 22, because of an outbreak of coronavirus cases, FCPS further said:

“To keep schools open five days a week, Fauquier County Public Schools will require all students and staff to wear a mask starting Monday, August 23, unless a medical exemption is on file and accompanied by a doctor’s note. Appropriate accommodations will be made for students and staff with a documented medical condition. In addition, religious accommodations will be made available to students and staff upon completion of the attached form.”

Classes start: Aug. 24

Loudoun County Public Schools

Loudoun County Public Schools will require students and staff to wear masks in school buildings and on buses regardless of vaccination status. Masks can be removed when outside, eating or participating in physical education.

Classes start: Aug. 26

Manassas City Public Schools

Physical distancing will be observed in Manassas City Public Schools, and masks will be required for all students, staff and visitors.

Classes start: Aug. 12

Manassas Park City Schools 

Manassas Park City Schools have not made their health safety guidelines available, but Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued a universal mask mandate for all K-12 schools in the state regardless of vaccination status on Aug. 12.

Classes start: Aug. 23

Prince William County Public Schools

Prince William County Public Schools will require masks to be worn indoors regardless of vaccination status, with some exceptions such as if a student has a disability that prevents masking. The system said physical distancing will be put in place “to the greatest extent possible with a minimum of three feet.”

Classes start: Aug. 23

Rappahannock County Public Schools 

On Aug. 23, InsideNova reported that Rappahannock County Public Schools announced that schools will switch to virtual learning for the rest of that week because of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases.

Rappahannock County Public Schools opened classrooms on Aug. 11. Originally, prior to Gov. Ralph Northam’s mask order, the school system encouraged masking, although it required them on buses and when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Classes start: Aug. 11

Stafford County Public Schools

The Stafford County School Board voted that all staff, students, parents, families, visitors, and guests (anyone entering school property) are required to wear face coverings when indoors and riding the school buses through at least Sept. 21.

Masks do not need to be worn when outdoors, eating or during mask breaks. During indoor physical education and athletics, students may remove the masks during physical exertion.

Where necessary for a student’s IEP or other health-related conditions, exemptions or other accommodations will be available

Classes start: Aug. 9

WTOP’s Laura Spitalniak and Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

Zeke Hartner

Zeke Hartner is a digital writer/editor who has been with WTOP since 2017. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s Political Science program and an avid news junkie.

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