COVID update: RPS ends contact tracing for summer school, mask requirement remains | education

Richmond Public Schools are waiving daily contact tracing but maintaining their mask mandate for summer classes.

The school board received updated COVID-19 guidance this week for the period beginning June 27 and ending August 19. Additional updated guidance for the 2022-23 school year is expected to be made available to the school board later this summer.

“We will no longer be tracing individual cases by contact,” said Michelle Hudacsko, RPS chief of staff. “This is the most significant shift and is consistent with VDH guidelines,” she said, citing the Virginia Department of Health.

Fourth District School Board member Jonathan Young’s application for approval of the no-mask COVID guidelines fell through after failing to be seconded Tuesday night. The board has never voted on RPS-COVID plans.

“I’m going to vote no on the COVID mitigation strategy because, frankly, it doesn’t make sense…two and a half years into a pandemic and to maintain a unified policy on masking and continue to require our faculty and staff to commit themselves despite or despite Masking their own will is irresponsible in my opinion,” Young said.

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On March 1, state law went into effect allowing parents to choose whether their children wear masks at school and freeing school districts from the power to implement mask requirements for students. The law allows parents to refuse RPS students from wearing masks. However, school districts can still require masks for staff, volunteers and visitors.

Other Richmond-area public schools will retain optional mask use for summer school.

Changes to the RPS-COVID plan include: no daily contact tracing for individual cases, no mask requirement outdoors, cut isolation time in half for positive people, and lifted social distancing and group size restrictions.

In February, RPS and six other Virginia school districts — Fairfax, Prince William and Arlington counties, and the cities of Alexandria, Hampton and Falls Church — sued Governor Glenn Youngkin to block his executive order to make masks optional in schools.

In January, Youngkin issued relaxed COVID guidance, giving school districts “workable flexibility” in mitigating.

School districts in the Richmond area, with the exception of RPS, suspended contact tracing last winter.

The remaining RPS policies include: promotion of vaccination and booster vaccination; wearing masks in RPS buildings; providing students and staff with COVID testing; promoting hand hygiene; use of ventilation systems; disinfecting classrooms, high-touch surfaces and buses; and daily symptom checks and contact tracing for outbreaks (three positive cases in a 14-day period), according to the summer directives memo.

Employees who become infected continue to receive a maximum of five days of vacation. If additional time is needed, the employee can apply for family and sick leave (unpaid, job-protected leave).

In Chesterfield County, school employees are entitled to up to 80 hours of vacation for COVID, according to a school boy. In Hanover County’s public schools, employees who test positive may be entitled to paid leave during their isolation period, according to a spokesman for the school.

The emergency COVID-19 leave for Henrico County school employees will expire on June 30, according to a school spokesman. Instead, employees can use sick leave along with personal vacation time.

Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras, who tested positive earlier this month, recently urged RPS families to get vaccinated if they haven’t already. Kamras also thanked everyone who had taken care of him and his family as all tested positive.

“We are so grateful for your love and support!” Kamras wrote in his Tuesday newsletter. “We’re also grateful for the vaccine – I’m afraid I would have ended up in hospital without it.

“If you have not yet been vaccinated, I urge you to do so (including any booster shots you may be eligible for). The vaccine won’t keep you from getting infected, but it will almost certainly keep you alive. If you don’t do it for yourself, please do it for your loved ones.”

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