By Sarah Richardson
The West Virginia Board of Education (WVBE) and the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) released the back-to-school guidance for the 2021-22 school year during a press event last week. According to a press release, “The information is designed to provide county school systems with strategies to facilitate the safe return to school and the continued operation of schools without interruption.”
“We know more about COVID-19 than we did a year ago, and we continue to learn more each day. Last year, schools were the safest places for children to be outside of their homes, and when mitigations and protocols were followed, our educational facilities did not contribute significantly to the spread of the disease,” says a statement by Clayton Burch. “Additionally, monitoring absences and outbreaks, and conducting contact tracing prevents further spread of the virus. The most effective means of protecting our staff and students are the vaccines that are readily available. This document aims to provide school recovery guidance based on the data and lessons learned. We have provided counties with this guidance so they may work with their local health departments and develop plans that best meet the needs of their communities. Paramount to these efforts is the importance of communicating these plans to your staff, students, and families. We must continue to work together to support a compassionate environment that fosters learning, recovery, and growth for our school community.”
The guidance document contains socioeconomic profiles, emotional wellness data, and mitigations for COVID control within the school system and their accompanying extracurricular activities.
“Any mask requirements are at the discretion of county boards of education working in collaboration with their local health departments,” reads the document, which also recommends extra cleaning and disinfecting, social distancing, contact tracing, hand hygiene, and evaluating large gatherings outside of the classroom.
It also recommends that “county school systems should monitor areas of higher transmission rates. At the discretion of individual counties, additional CDC-recommended protocols may be implemented.”
The WVDE also released the following quarantine guidance information:
Quarantine period can end after Day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been identified during daily self-monitoring.
- Day 0-10: quarantine for close contacts can end if no symptoms develop during daily self-monitoring without testing. (Duration of quarantine applies from the last date of exposure)
- If an individual develops symptoms within the quarantine period, immediately isolate and contact the local health department to report change in clinical status.
Quarantine period can end after Day 7 if someone tests negative (PCR or antigen test) and if no symptoms have been identified during daily self-monitoring. Post-quarantine transmission risk: 5%-12
- Day 0-7: quarantine for close contact can end if COVID-19 test is negative and if no symptoms develop during daily self-monitoring. (Duration of quarantine applies from the last date of exposure)
- Specimen may be collected and tested within 48 hours before the time of planned quarantine discontinuation.
- Self-monitoring and mask wearing should be continuous.
- If an individual develops symptoms within the quarantine period, immediately isolate and contact public health to report change in clinical status.
In another effort to help prevent COVID spread, schools and counties are required to educate staff, students, and their families about the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, flu, and other communicable diseases, and establish a dedicated space for symptomatic individuals that will not be used for other purposes in order to immediately isolate symptomatic students.
To promote vaccinations, the Department of Education has launched its #IGotVaxxedWV campaign to encourage students 12 and older to get their COVID-19 vaccine.
“The WVDE in collaboration with the Governor’s Office and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) has launched the #IGotVaxxedWV Competition to reward schools that have supported vaccinations among students and staff,” reads the guidance document. “The competition will run through the first week of October 2021 and will now award $50,000 to four elementary schools, four middle schools and four high schools with the highest percentage of eligible staff and students vaccinated. The competition includes both public and private schools. Funds can be used for student-based activities and events that may have been missed or scaled back over the past two years. Once submissions are complete, data will be verified by DHHR’s Division of Immunization Services. For contest information, visit wvde.us/igotvaxxed.”
The WVDE recognizes that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is fluid, and guidance will continuously be revisited to ensure it aligns with Governor Justice’s and public health officials’ best practices. At utmost importance for all considerations of the return to schools is the safety of West Virginia’s students, teachers and the extended education community.
To view the West Virginia School Recovery and Guidance Document and additional information, visit wvde.us/covid19/.
For updates on the coronavirus in West Virginia, visit coronavirus.wv.gov.