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APS to mostly follow same Covid protocols as last year, with some updates

Arlington School Board at the Aug. 18 meeting (image via APS)

Arlington Public Schools will follow mostly the same Covid protocols as last year, including optional masks, free weekly testing, and five-day quarantines.

At last Thursday’s School Board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán reviewed the latest Covid protocols for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year, which starts this coming Monday, Aug. 29.

Much hasn’t changed from last year as APS continues to align guidelines with both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).

Masks will continue to be optional for students and staff as long as local transmission continues to be low or moderate. Currently CDC says Arlington is in its “Medium” community level for Covid, though it appears possible that that may flip back to “Low” on Thursday. If cases do rise and hit the “High” threshold, APS says its requirements will change.

“If we ever get to the high community transmission, we will require masks,” said Durán. “Of course, we will have the opportunity for families to opt out but it will be required for staff.”

Students who have Covid-like symptoms will also continue to be sent home and only allowed back to school with either a physician’s note or a negative test. The change in this year’s policy, though, is that all tests will be accepted as proof, including at-home rapid tests. Previously, only PCR tests were accepted.

Like last year, all students who test positive must quarantine for five days and can return to school on the sixth day provided they are symptom-free. From day six to day ten, students and staff must wear a mask while at school.

If a student is unable or “unwilling” to wear a mask, a negative test must be provided to return to school. A student or a staff member who still feels ill or has symptoms after day five of quarantining should remain home.

“I want to put a plea out there to all of our parents and staff, monitor your symptoms. Do not come to school or work if you are not feeling well,” said Durán.

Another relative notable change from last year is that anyone who was directly exposed to a Covid-positive individual no longer needs to quarantine unless they have symptoms themselves, no matter their vaccination status.

Last year, the quarantine rules for those who were directly exposed but had no symptoms shifted. In early 2022, APS started allowing students who were vaccinated, willing to mask, and asymptomatic to return to school almost immediately.

Now, vaccinations and masking are no longer required.

Families and staff can also opt in for free weekly Covid testing provided by APS. A consent form was sent via email to all families, noted Durán.

“I highly encourage if you are concerned about making our schools safer to take advantage of this. It takes only a few minutes each week,” he said.

More information and a more complete list of guidelines is expected to be available on APS’s website and sent to parents, students and staff tomorrow (Wednesday).

The School Board meeting brought a few other updates with students returning next week.

Over the summer, APS invested more than $5 million in security upgrades, including a new visitor management system, door lock technology, and an alarm system.

A new mobile app is debuting that will allow parents to track where their student’s bus is and when will it arrive. A new virtual tutoring system for middle and high school students is set to be available, as well.

Plus, the first-ever “APS-wide dress code” is being instituted this year. Previously, dress codes were determined by schools. As School Board member Barbara Kanninen noted, a “more inclusive” system-wide dress code was prioritized by APS due to the ongoing efforts of one particular student who launched a campaign she dubbed “Free The Shoulders.”

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