FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Fairfax County Public Schools will require masks to be worn at all times by students and staff indoors and on school buses to begin the 2021-22 school year, the school district announced Wednesday.
In a letter to parents, the school district announced that masks will be required for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status. Fairfax County Public Schools is returning to in-person learning five days a week this fall.
"Masks will be worn at all times by both staff and students indoors and on school buses, but are not required when eating or when outside during recess, PE, or other activities," FCPS said in its letter to parents. "Universal masking is a critical factor in ensuring all students can return to our buildings, especially when social distancing is not possible and not all our students are eligible yet for vaccinations."
The move follows the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
FCPS also encouraged anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated if they have not yet received their vaccine against the COVID-19 virus.
Other school districts in D.C., Maryland and Virginia have followed suit when it comes to universal masking in school.
FCPS Superintendent Dr. Scott Brabrand told WUSA9 that schools are still encouraged to be creative and innovative as social distancing will likely be impossible with over 99.5% of the 180,000 students in the county returning to classrooms.
"We'll have some outdoor classrooms and outdoor areas in many schools for eating," Brabrand said. "We are also sharing with our students and school leadership that we're asking students that when they're not eating even during lunch time to put their mask on when they're in very close quarters."
FCPS does not plan to regularly test students or staff for COVID-19 so officials are asking anyone who enters our schools is asked to self-assess and stay home if they are feeling ill or experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.
If there is an exposure in schools, the school will notify affected families, per FCPS. The Fairfax County Health Department is responsible for contact tracing.
"If there is a need to quarantine a particular student we would be reaching out to them," he added. "We do not expect to be in a position where we need to close classrooms or schools this year."
Many Fairfax County parents including Marian Perez are pleased with the decision to require masks. Her 5-year-old son is entering kindergarten with a compromised immune system.
"The more protections or layers of protection we can do is important to me," Perez said.
The news comes as the CDC reversed course on mask wearing, now recommending that people in certain areas should wear masks indoors even if they have been vaccinated against the virus. The CDC expressed concern about the evolving coronavirus and the Delta variant.
Citing new information about the variant's ability to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.