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Why Powhatan students will start the school year wearing masks in class

Posted at 10:55 AM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-10 10:59:17-04

POWHATAN COUNTY, Va. -- Citing legal and moral reasons, Powhatan school leaders have opted to start the 2021-22 school year requiring students and staff to wear masks inside school buildings and on the school bus.

"We are disappointed that we will be starting the school year in an increased mitigation phase, but we are obligated to follow the law and have a moral imperative to follow current scientific guidance to keep our students and staff as safe as possible," Powhatan Schools Superintendent Eric Jones wrote in a letter to parents. "All of us want a school experience that is positive and productive for our students. We need your help in following the mitigation measures that we have in place and taking the necessary steps to keep you and your family safe. Medical experts agree that the quickest way for us to move back to Phase I is for individuals to get vaccinated. If you are eligible to get vaccinated, we urge you to consider doing so."

Jones also stated Powhatan is experiencing the highest number of positive COVID-19 cases since February as the Delta variant spreads throughout the country.

"After consulting with the Powhatan County School Board Attorney, it was determined that PCPS would be violating this law [SB 1303] by not following current CDC guidance on mitigation efforts to reduce the transmission of COVID-19," the letter continued.

When Powhatan County Schools (PCPS) begin later this month, the county indicated the following COVID-19 safety protocols would be in place:

  1. Masks will be required for students and staff inside the building and while on school transportation.
  2. PCPS will continue to socially distance students in the classroom to the extent possible. Small group instruction and collaboration between students will be implemented to the extent possible by our teachers.
  3. We will continue to encourage hand washing and sanitizing
  4. Air quality improvements such as ionization and other HVAC enhancements that are in place in all facilities and on buses will continue to operate.
  5. School-specific mitigation measures for daily procedures, such as lunch, recess, and transitions, will be shared with families in the near future.
  6. Students and staff who are sick are advised to stay home. A health screening should be completed by staff and parents (for each child) before traveling to school every day.
  7. PCPS will continue to contact trace and notify any students and staff who have been in close contact with a positive case. Contact tracing and notifications will follow current VDH recommendations for vaccinated or unvaccinated students and staff.
  8. Visitors in schools will be limited. All visitors will be expected to follow the same protocols/expectations that are in place for staff and students.

Amelia County, which returns to school this week, also voted to require masks in class.