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Health and Safety at the Forefront as HCPSS Prepares for Return to Schools

August 13th, 2021

At the August 12 Board of Education meeting, Howard County Public School System Superintendent Dr. Michael J. Martirano provided updates on preparations for the return of students and staff to in-person instruction, detailing strategies intended to maintain healthy school communities to keep school buildings open for the duration of the school year.

Additionally, the Superintendent announced that all HCPSS staff will be required to be fully vaccinated or undergo regular testing, and provided a school bus transportation update.

See below for updates provided by Superintendent Martirano.

Communication to Families

Families may find it useful to bookmark the following webpages where information will be continually updated and posted:

Student Vaccinations and Testing

While Howard County leads the state in the percentage of residents vaccinated, there continues to be considerable risk that the COVID-19 virus could spread in a school, requiring students and staff to be out of the building for an extended period of time. HCPSS will continue to support the Health Department’s work to make vaccines available to all eligible students. Additionally, our school-based health professionals will continue to provide diagnostic testing to students and staff who display COVID-19 symptoms during the school day.

Masking

It was announced last week that universal indoor masking is required in all HCPSS schools and offices, regardless of vaccination status. This decision was made following the strong endorsement of universal masking by the Howard County Health Department, who referenced the guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Maryland Department of Health, and American Academy of Pediatrics. Masking is also required on school buses for everyone, regardless of age or vaccination status, in accordance with state and federal mandates. Masks are not required outdoors, but are still recommended for unvaccinated individuals.

There will be some students and staff, particularly students with disabilities, who may not be able to wear a mask. HCPSS staff will provide the necessary supports and accommodations to ensure those individuals may participate in in-person instruction in a safe and healthy manner. In addition to masking, several other mitigation strategies will be implemented to ensure school buildings remain healthy environments for teaching and learning.

Quarantining Procedures

The close contact and quarantining procedures that were put into place last year will remain this fall. Only unvaccinated students and adults who are identified as close contacts must quarantine. Vaccinated students and staff will not be required to quarantine unless they receive a positive test or are displaying symptoms, but are expected to monitor their symptoms closely for the 14 days. Instructional supports are in place for students who must quarantine.

Cafeteria Protocols

Students will be required to wear masks at all times when they are not eating or drinking, including when entering and exiting the cafeteria, in the lunch line, throwing trash away, and after finishing their meal. Elementary schools will have assigned cafeteria seating, which will facilitate close contact identification for our younger students if contact tracing becomes necessary. Staff are exploring ways to provide separation between students at cafeteria tables. Additional cafeteria protocols are available online.

Meals

School breakfast and lunch will be served in the cafeteria at no cost to students through the entire 2021-2022 school year, any day that schools are open. All meal service will be grab and go, with no self-service or a la carte items offered. However, students will have more meal choices than were available last year, and a faster meal service process has been designed to reduce the time spent in meal lines. Meals will also be available for pickup on Mondays and Thursdays by students enrolled in the DEC. Details online.

Student Technology

In prekindergarten, HCPSS-issued laptops will remain at home during the first semester. Laptops will be brought to and remain at school for the second semester. In kindergarten and first grade, school laptops will primarily remain at school, while students in grades 2–12 will be expected to bring laptops back and forth to school each day.

Digital Education Center

In June, the Board of Education endorsed a plan for the Digital Education Center to serve students in grades K-6 whose parents/guardians had committed to participate during the spring commitment period. The K-6 grades were selected because most students in that group are not yet eligible to be vaccinated for COVID-19. School reassignment requests submitted since the DEC commitment window closed are being reviewed by staff, and decisions will be communicated to families as soon as possible.

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