COVID update: RPS ends contact tracing for summer school, mask mandate stays | Education | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools

Richmond Public Schools is forgoing daily contact tracing but is keeping its mask mandate for summer instruction.

The School Board received updated COVID-19 guidance this week for the period that begins on June 27 and ends Aug. 19. Additional updated guidance for the 2022-23 school year is slated to be provided to the board later this summer.

“We will no longer be contact tracing individual cases,” said Michelle Hudacsko, RPS chief of staff. “That is the most significant shift and aligned with VDH guidance,” she said, referring to the Virginia Department of Health.

Fourth District School Board member Jonathan Young’s motion to approve the COVID guidance without the mask requirement failed after it was not seconded Tuesday night. The board has never voted on RPS COVID plans.

“I will vote no in regards to the COVID mitigation strategy because candidly it makes zero sense … two and a half years into a pandemic to retain a one-size-fits-all policy pertinent to masking and to continue to require our faculty and staff to mask up despite, or in spite of, their own volition is, in my opinion, irresponsible,” Young said.

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A state law went into effect on March 1, allowing parents to choose whether their children wear masks in school and ridding school districts of the authority to implement student mask mandates. The law means parents may opt out RPS students from wearing masks. But school districts still may require masks for staff, volunteers and visitors.

Other Richmond area public schools are maintaining optional mask use for summer school.

Changes to the RPS COVID plan include: forgoing daily contact tracing for individual cases, not requiring masks outdoors, cutting the isolation period for positive in half, eliminating social distancing and group size restrictions and more.

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 Gov. Glenn Youngkin in an effort to block his executive order to make masks in school optional.

In January, Youngkin provided relaxed COVID-19 guidance, giving school districts “practicable flexibility” on mitigation. Richmond area school districts, with the exception of RPS, stopped contact tracing this past winter.

RPS guidance that remains includes: promoting vaccinations and boosters, wearing masks inside RPS buildings, providing COVID-19 tests to students and staff members, promoting hand hygiene, utilizing ventilation systems, disinfecting classrooms, high touch surfaces and buses, daily symptom checks and contact tracing for outbreaks (3 positive cases in a 14-day period), according to the summer instruction memo.

Employees who become infected will continue to receive a maximum of five days of leave. If additional time is needed, the staff member will apply for Family and Medical Leave (unpaid, job-protected leave).

In Chesterfield County, school employees may access up to 80 hours of leave for COVID-19, according to a schools spokesperson. In Hanover County Schools, employees who test positive may be eligible for paid leave during their isolation period,” according to a schools spokesperson.

Emergency COVID-19 leave for Henrico County school employees expires on June 30, according to a schools spokesperson. Instead, staff can use sick leave along with personal leave.

Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras, who tested positive earlier this month, recently urged RPS families to get vaccinated if they haven’t done so already. Kamras also thanked everyone who reached out to check on him and his family, as they all tested positive.

“We’re very grateful for your love and support!” Kamras wrote in his Tuesday newsletter. “We’re also grateful for the vaccine – I fear I might have ended up in the hospital without it.

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

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