Despite bus shortage, students return to Loudoun County classrooms

cheerleaders
Cheerleaders welcome students to the first day of classes in Loudoun County on Aug. 26, 2021.

Children return to school in Loudoun County. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)
Children return to school in Loudoun County.

back to school sign in Loudoun
There’s lots of enthuisasm as Loudoun County students go back to school.

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cheerleaders
Children return to school in Loudoun County. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)
back to school sign in Loudoun

Many of 81,000 students in Loudoun County, Virginia, will be headed to their public school classrooms Thursday for the first time since March 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic — the challenge will be getting them to school and back.

In the midst of a nationwide shortage of bus drivers, the always-hectic first week of nailing down transportation will be even more difficult.

“Please know that LCPS is implementing a number of internal measures to cover as many routes as possible,” according to the school system’s web page. “Despite these efforts, families may encounter some service impacts during the first days of school, including late buses and double or triple loads.”

The school system is asking parents who intend to drive their children to school to opt-out of the county transportation planning, to allow bus routes to be consolidated.

In addition, the Here Comes The Bus website and mobile app enables parents to see the location of their child’s school bus on a smartphone, tablet, or computer, to reduce the time children spend standing by the side of the road.

Meanwhile, 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. Teachers will prioritize activities that allow for physical distancing when PE is held indoors.

The school system said all LCPS students, parents, employees, visitors, volunteers and others who enter the school building are expected to comply with the mask rules. Children under 2 years old are exempt from the mask requirement.

See Superintendent Scott Ziegler’s mask update below.

In addition to masks, physical distancing will be enforced throughout LCPS buildings.

In indoor K-12 settings, a student who is within three to six feet of an infected student is not considered a close contact as long as both students are wearing masks and the school has prevention strategies in place.

There will be enhanced cleaning protocols that include disinfection of high-touch surfaces three times per day during the school day.

Students who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (the vaccines have not yet been approved for those under 12) don’t need to quarantine after having close contact with someone with COVID-19 as long as the student remains asymptomatic.

However, students identified as close contacts to an infected person will have to quarantine for 14 days.

Any student who has to isolate or quarantine will be able to make up missed assignments through Schoology or by way of their teachers.

Read LCPS’ full mask and mitigation plan online.

School meals

When it comes to food, students 18 and younger can get breakfast, lunch, snack and supper meals for free.

Starting Aug. 30, students who are distance-learning can pick up meals on Mondays only (seven days of breakfast, lunch, snack and supper) at any nearby high school loading dock from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. If Monday is a holiday, meals will be served on Tuesday.

The school system said due to program limitations, students can only get one type of meal per day. Second meals will cost $4.10.

See the full meal plan online.


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Last-minute reminders

Schools Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler said in a letter Wednesday that before the bell rings, families must complete the online verification process that is part of the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) First Day of School Information initiative.

Ziegler is encouraging parents and students to visit the Return to School 2021 website to find information about COVID-19 mitigation strategies in place, including FAQs about masking and other protocols.

Lastly, LCPS recommends that parents look at the Transportation Concern Registry if they need more help with school bus arrangements.

“I hope your family is as excited as I am about the first day of school tomorrow!” Ziegler said. “Our staff is enthusiastic to see those big yellow buses pull up and bring your students back to school. Staff has been working hard all summer to prepare for this big day in our community.”

Watch Ziegler’s back-to-school message below.

Nearly 300,000 students returned to the classroom Monday in Fairfax and Prince William counties, Manassas Park City Schools and Culpeper County. Alexandria’s first day of school was Tuesday.

The full Loudoun County Public Schools calendar is online.

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino and Neal Augenstein contributed to this report.


More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.


Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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