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Important HCPSS Back to School Updates, August 29, 2021

August 29th, 2021

As students, staff and families prepare for the first day of school, below are additional updates that families are encouraged to review.

Self-Health Checks
All families are reminded to perform COVID-19 health checks each day before sending students to school. Students may not come to school if they exhibit symptoms associated with COVID-19 or any communicable disease.

Bus Schedules
All families of students who plan to ride the bus to and from school should recheck the HCPSS Bus Locator as some routes and schedules have been adjusted due to driver vacancies and other factors impacting bus transportation this year.

General questions regarding transportation should be emailed to transportation@hcpss.org. For more urgent matters, such as a late or missing bus, please call HCPSS Transportation at 410-313-6732.

Mask Requirements
Masks are required in all HCPSS buildings for all students, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Masks also will be required while on school buses. Masks will not be required for any students or staff while eating/drinking indoors. Masks will not be required outdoors, however they are recommended for unvaccinated individuals.

Masks should have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric that completely cover the nose and mouth. Please review the CDC Guide to Masks.

Please note, if a student has a medical condition that prohibits the wearing of a mask, that student’s parent/guardian will need to submit a physician letter to the school nurse or health assistant.

Quarantining Procedures
Contact tracing is handled by the Howard County Health Department (HCHD), with support from and in coordination with the HCPSS Office of Health Services. 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, however they will be expected to monitor their symptoms closely for the 14 days.

Details on quarantining requirements for unvaccinated students and staff can be found online.

Social Distancing
As families attended open houses and orientations at their child’s school, questions arose related to social distancing. The Maryland State Department of Education is requiring schools to be open for in-person instruction for all students for a minimum of 180 days in the 2021-2022 school year. This results in approximately 58,000 students returning to Howard County school buildings.

The expectation is for schools to return to normalized instruction which includes classroom desk arrangements that enable whole group instruction, small group instruction, group work, and independent rotations. Due to the number of students and staff in the building each day, social distancing is not a feasible mitigation effort.

In alignment with CDC recommendations that when one mitigation can’t be followed, others are emphasized, HCPSS has placed even greater emphasis on strategies such as universal masking and proper mask wearing, required vaccinations or weekly testing for all staff, regular hand washing and access to hand sanitizer, opportunities for outdoor eating and other cafeteria protocols, and enhanced air filtration efforts.

Cafeteria Plexiglass
Plexiglass dividers for cafeteria tables for elementary schools and sixth grade students are scheduled to arrive early this week, and will be installed upon receipt.

Outdoor seating is available at all schools with additional precautions within each school. Students will not have to wear masks when eating or drinking, or while outdoors, however masks are required when not seated or eating in the cafeteria. Additional information regarding precautionary measures in our schools during lunch shifts can be found online.

HVAC Information for Schools Where MERV 13 Filters Cannot Be Installed in Every Unit
HCPSS has received questions related to schools that are unable to install MERV 13 filters in the HVAC system. MERV 13 air filters are unable to be installed in the HVAC equipment serving six HCPSS school buildings.

The HVAC systems at these schools use Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) HVAC systems which utilize 1/2-inch thick MERV 8 air filters which are unable to be upgraded to MERV 13 since 1/2-inch MERV 13 filters are not manufactured. However, these VRF systems are coupled with separate Dedicated Outdoor Air System (DOAS) units which utilize MERV 13 air filters to create an overall higher-efficiency system to mitigate environmental concerns in the school.

VRF HVAC System Quick Facts:

  1. VRF systems are high efficiency systems.
  2. Each classroom has its own VRF fan-coil unit which recirculates air within that classroom only. This prevents cross-contamination between classrooms through the HVAC system.
  3. VRF fan-coil units have a higher recirculating airflow rate than a conventional HVAC system does, which results in more room air changes per hour than a conventional HVAC system.
  4. When coupled with separate DOAS units, VRF/DOAS HVAC systems exceed the recommended ASHRAE and Maryland Department of Health equivalent outdoor air change rates.

The following is the list of schools and areas in the school where VRF systems are utilized (that cannot utilize MERV 13 air filters):

The systems installed at all HCPSS schools exceed the 4 to 6 equivalent outdoor air changes per hour recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers and the 3 to 5 equivalent outdoor air changes per hour recommended by the Maryland Department of Health.

Additional information on the schools without MERV 13 air filters is available online.

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