Most Richmond County students are slated to return for five days of in-person learning on August 16.

Hybrid and RCPS-taught virtual programs won’t be offered this year. RCPS simply doesn’t have the staff and support to operate a virtual school like many larger school districts, said superintendent Dr. Trey Davis.

However, students who don’t want to return to the classroom full-time will have the option to enroll in a distance education program through Virtual Virginia. RCPS will cover the cost and ensure each student has a computer. But families who choose this option should be aware that RCPS will not be involved in other aspects of the students’ learning experience.

Masks, not mask policing

About 68 percent of RCPS staff and 20% of eligible students have been vaccinated based on the last figures Davis had.

RCPS will not require vaccinations unless the state sets that requirement, but the school system is requiring masks for everyone on buses and indoors, at least for the first nine weeks.

Davis said RCPS chose an across-the-board mask policy because otherwise you end up with a situation where it’s necessary to police who’s vaccinated and who isn’t.

Students won’t have to wear masks outdoors or during meal times. And there will be mask breaks during the day.

Mask breaks will be allowed at times when students can be spaced far enough apart. It’ll be a judgement call left to teachers, but some classes may not be conducive to mask breaks because of the number of students in the room, said Davis.

According to RCPS’ guidance, unvaccinated staff should wear a mask at all times inside of school buildings. Vaccinated staff have the option to remove their mask when they’re alone themselves or spaced more than six feet apart.  

Social distancing

Students and staff are to maintain three to six feet of distance from others throughout the day. Whenever, this isn’t possible indoors or in transit, masks must be worn.

Davis said Virginia relaxed its guidelines for bus riding and will allow students to sit together. RCPS has added an additional bus route and purchased three new buses that may not be ready for the first day of school but will be put into circulation.

This school year, students in grades K-4 and 8-12 will eat in their classrooms while students in grades 5-7 will eat in the two cafeterias at RCEM to maximize social distancing.

Safety protocols

Everybody that enters the schools will have their temperatures taken at the entrance with an infrared face scanner. Anyone with a fever will be sent home. If a student arrived on a bus and has a high temperature that student will be quarantined in the nurse’s office until picked up.

If anyone is diagnosed with COVID-19, that student or staff member will be sent home and Virginia Department of Health will do contact tracing to determine who, if anyone, is considered a close contact and needs to quarantine.

Virginia has changed the definition of “close contact.” Now saying that in an  indoor K-12 setting, if a student comes within three to six feet of another student who’s infected, if both students were wearing masks, the uninfected student isn’t considered a close contact that needs to quarantine.

But, that exception doesn’t apply to adults who come into contact with an infected child, even if both are masked. The exception is made for youth in an effort to reduce the number of students missing school to quarantine, explained Davis.

Small localities, like Richmond County, are not set up to send kids home for two weeks and support them like we would want to. We just don’t have the staff, he added.

All classrooms will have access to sanitizing spray, wipes and hand sanitizer. Students will wipe down their workstations before changing classes or leaving for the day, and the classrooms and buses will be sanitized periodically using special equipment that ionizes a CDC-approved chemical to destroy viruses on surfaces.

Apart from students’ family, RCPS won’t be allowing outsiders, such as guest speakers or volunteers, into the schools unless it goes through a principal or the superintendent. And Davis offers assurance that it would only be approved for “a very valid reason.”

“It’s not in our best interest [to have outside guests] and it’s unneeded work. The benefit does not outweigh the risks,” explained Davis. He added that he doesn’t foresee any field trips, at least in the first nine weeks.

Schedule, classes, sports

RCPS changed its school opening date to mid-August to facilitate a 4x4 schedule and was planning to run with that this year. But the school system decided to go with the A/B block schedule instead to help ensure content is covered in all eight courses throughout the year.

Classes, such as PE, band, chorus, and JROTC will be offered following state guidelines, and athletics will operate as they did last year.

Monitoring and reassessing

RCPS will be reviewing Virginia Department of Health’s weekly updates to monitor the level of disease in the community, and every nine weeks school administrators will reassess the mask mandate and other guidance and protocols to determine if any changes are warranted.

Most students need to be in school every day. A few can do well with distance learning but it’s a very small portion. So, we need to come up with policies that keep schools open and kids in the building as long as possible, said Davis.