Northern Va. schools keep COVID cases, quarantines in perspective in young school year

Just a few weeks into five-day-a-week in-person learning in the new school year, Northern Virginia public school systems are keeping an eye on the increase in COVID-19 cases among young people.

With isolated confirmed coronavirus cases in schools, and the associated quarantining, a number of schools throughout the region are taking steps to avoid the spread of the virus.

Given the upswing in cases involving young people — including those under the age of 12, the youngest age at which a child is eligible to be vaccinated — as well as the recent arrival of the delta variant, some parents would like to have the option to choose virtual learning.

However, local school systems, including Loudoun and Fairfax County, are providing perspective on why the current plan revolves around continuing in-person learning.

Both school systems said in-person learning is the best approach, and plan to take steps to keep schools healthy and open.

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Loudoun County said despite some COVID cases being reported in elementary, middle and high schools, “LCPS has not identified any in-school transmissions.”

During the previous school year, school and public health officials said when mitigation steps are followed — including vaccination, masking, and physical distancing when possible — the spread of COVID is less in public schools than in the communities surrounding the school.

“Following this guidance and using layered mitigation practices to the fullest extent possible means we will be doing everything we can to help prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 virus,” according to a Monday news release.

Tuesday, LCPS is launching an updated COVID-19 data webpage, to provide information on schools with reported cases.

Unlike last year, in which each school system had to reconfigure class offerings, to include both in-person and virtual options, all students who chose the virtual option this year are learning under Virtual Virginia.

Virtual Virginia is a statewide service, offered by the Virginia Department of Education.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s signing of SB 1303 requires school systems to offer five-day-a-week in-person learning. Eligibility for the Virtual Virginia program is based on documented health needs of an individual student.

The application window for the virtual program closed May 28.

Fairfax County Public Schools, on its return to school page, said the system’s goal “is always to keep our school buildings open,” but also said “in consultation with the Fairfax County Health Department, may be required to provide full virtual instruction, or a combination of virtual instruction in the event transmission of COVID-19 within a school building is at a high level.”

During and after last year’s predominantly-virtual school year, pediatricians, educators, and parents noted children’s mental and emotional health were challenged by lack of in-school interaction.

“FCPS is committed to continuity of learning during the 2021-22 school year and the school division is using layered prevention strategies to do everything possible to ensure our schools remain safe, healthy and open. Our plan is to remain open using these strategies unless directed otherwise by health officials or Executive Order,” according to the school system.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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