Fairfax Co. schools update mask exit ramp, as Va. mask-optional bills advance

Fairfax County Public Schools announced its plans “to safely scale back layered prevention measures,” Thursday, as Virginia’s House of Delegates readies to vote on a bill that gives families the ability to opt-out of COVID-19 mask mandates issued by school systems.

In a posting on its website, FCPS said while COVID-19 cases continue to decline, the county is still in high transmission, and masking requirements currently remain.

According to the school system, “FCPS will implement our roll back strategy when the Fairfax Community reaches moderate transmission and remains there for seven consecutive days,”

Moderate transmission constitutes 10 to 50 cases per 100,000 people. Or a positivity rate between 5% and 8%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The county has a seven-day average positivity rate of 9.82%, according to CDC data collected through Sunday.

Once local transmission rates drop to the moderate range, masking will be optional, according to FCPS.

“Universal masking will only be required during high or substantial community transmission rates,” the schools system said.

But this isn’t a steadfast rule based around transmission rates. FCPS said if there’s an outbreak, some students and staff may be asked to wear masks “during mask-optional community transmission levels to protect the public health.”

While the county says its rollback plan will be triggered by a drop in cases, the plan may become moot if lawmakers in Richmond continue to advance mask-optional legislation that would prohibit local school boards from imposing mask mandates.

The Virginia Senate passed a bill on Wednesday allowing parents to ignore local school boards’ mandates on children wearing masks in school. If the House passes the bill, Gov. Glenn Youngkin has said he’ll sign it, perhaps with an emergency clause requiring it be implemented immediately. Adding that clause would kick the bill back to the state House and Senate for another vote.

Masks aren’t the only policy change FCPS announced will change as transmission rates dip.

FCPS says student screening testing will be available during moderate, substantial and high community transmission to the greatest extent possible, in alignment with CDC guidance. Screening testing won’t be offered during low transmission.

The school system said contact tracing, isolation and quarantine policies will continue for the time being. In the event of a regional surge, FCPS says it may need to adjust its layered prevention strategies to safely provide in-person instruction.

“Because our plan is based on scientific data, we believe this plan gives us a roadmap to move forward safely.” the school system said. “We must continue to respect and serve all our students, including our most vulnerable.”

In a statement, Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association that represents over 4,000 school employees, said: “There are many people who will not be protected by removing a mask requirement. We think this will likely put a burden on the system because more educators will be forced to apply for ADA accommodations, take leave, or depart the field of education entirely.

It is our hope that FCPS continues to follow CDC guidelines to protect ALL people in our educational environment. If we want to ensure in-person education continues uninterrupted and that we keep everyone safe, current mitigation strategies are the best hope of maintaining these goals.”

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.

WTOP’s Jessica Kronzer contributed to this report.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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