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2021-2022 Health & Safety

We’re excited to be back!

In alignment with guidance and expectations provided by the Maryland State Department of Education, all students were provided the opportunity to receive fully in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. Additionally, HCPSS developed a fully digital option, the Digital Education Center, serving approximately 500 students in grades K-6 this year.

The health and safety of all students and staff is of the utmost concern. See below for HCPSS efforts regarding health and safety measures for students, staff, families, schools and offices.

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Jump to: Masks | Vaccination / Testing | Health Checks | Contact Tracing / Quarantine | HCPSS Dashboard | Air Quality | Student Meals | FAQs

Masks On, HCPSS

Per the Maryland State Department of Education, masks are required in all Maryland public school buildings for all students, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. The state mandate reflects guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maryland Department of Health, and is in alignment with an HCPSS masking directive that already was in place.

Masks also are required while on school buses. Masks are not required for any students or staff while eating/drinking indoors. Masks are not required outdoors, however they are recommended for unvaccinated individuals.

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RHS students at computers and wearing masks

COVID-19 Vaccination / Testing Requirements

In a continuing effort to maintain safe, healthy learning environments that fully provide instruction and supports for all students, while balancing multiple layers of staffing challenges and workloads, HCPSS has implemented vaccine and weekly testing requirements for staff, student athletes, volunteers and others.

These requirements and protocols will be continually reevaluated as we progress through the school year, in anticipation that vaccines will become available for younger students, health agencies’ guidance may change, and/or declining COVID infection rates may reduce the threat to the safety of students and staff.

HCPSS Students

Generally, HCPSS students are not required to show proof of vaccination or undergo testing. Student vaccine mandates must be directed by the State of Maryland, which currently is not requiring public school students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The exception to student vaccination requirements is for student-athletes.

Student Athletes

All student-athletes in grades 9–12 are required to provide proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing in order to participate. This requirement begins with the start of winter athletics practices.

Related Information

Visit the Howard County Health Department COVID-19 Vaccine site 

HCPSS Employees

All HCPSS employees—including full- and part-time staff, permanent substitutes, long-term substitutes, lunch/recess monitors and translators—are required to provide proof of full vaccination or undergo regular weekly COVID-19 testing.

Contracted Service Providers

Contracted staff who work for before- and after-care and other service providers, such as bus drivers, are required to implement a vaccine or testing requirement for employees.

Volunteers and Classroom Observers

The following groups are required to show proof of full vaccination at least five school days in advance:

  • Volunteers and chaperones who interact with students
  • Parents/guardians who conduct classroom observations
  • Professional individuals or groups who come into the school during the school day to provide enhancements and support to instruction such as musical performers and guest speakers.

Details on volunteer/observer vaccine requirements are available online.

At-Home Health Checks

Parents/guardians should keep their children home if they are experiencing symptom(s) associated with any communicable disease, including COVID-19. In addition, parents/guardians are to perform the following COVID-19 health check every day before the student leaves home.

Students and staff should NOT come to school with any of these symptoms:

  • fever of 100.4 degrees or higher
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • difficulty breathing
  • diarrhea or vomiting
  • new onset of severe headache (especially with fever), or
  • new loss of taste or smell

For persons with chronic conditions such as asthma, the symptoms should represent a change from baseline.

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Contact Tracing and Quarantining

Contact tracing is handled by the Ameridial, with support from and in coordination with the HCPSS Office of Health Services. School principals will send out communication to the school community when there’s a case in the building. No personally identifying information will be shared. If a student is identified as a close contact, the parent/guardian will receive individual communication about the quarantine procedure from health services and additional communication from the local health department contact tracers.

Only unvaccinated students and adults who are identified as close contacts must quarantine. Vaccinated students and staff will not be required to quarantine unless they receive a positive test or are displaying symptoms, however they will be expected to monitor their symptoms closely for 14 days. It also is recommended that both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals get tested 5-7 days after exposure, regardless of whether they are exhibiting symptoms.

For unvaccinated students and staff members, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend a 14-day quarantine, however, based on local circumstances and resources, the following options to shorten quarantine are acceptable alternatives (this does not apply to children age five and under):

  1. An unvaccinated student or staff member determined to be a close contact with a person with verified COVID-19 may end quarantine after Day 10 without testing as long as the student or staff member has remained symptom-free and continues to monitor for symptoms through the full 14-day period. They must agree to immediately isolate and get tested if symptoms appear within that 14-day period.
  2. An unvaccinated student or staff member determined to be a close contact with a person with verified COVID-19 may end quarantine after Day 7 with a negative COVID-19 PCR or rapid test on or after Day 5, if they remain symptom-free and agree to immediately isolate if symptoms appear within that 14-day period.

Unvaccinated or vaccinated students or staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 should isolate and not return to school until they have been out at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms or positive test without symptoms, remain fever-free for 24 hours, and show a consistent improvement of symptoms.

The Howard County Health Department (HCHD) treats positive cases in the prekindergarten program as it would a daycare setting, closing the affected classrooms for a minimum of 14 days. Additional details on how positive cases of COVID-19 in a prekindergarten classroom are handled can be found online.

Related Information

HCPSS COVID-19 Dashboard

The HCPSS COVID-19 dashboard reflects daily (non-cumulative) positive test results self-reported to HCPSS of students, staff or visitors in school/office buildings during their contagious period. This data reflects the date HCPSS was notified of the positive case and not necessarily the date of the positive test result.

The HCPSS dashboard also includes cases that are part of the MDH outbreak reporting. These cases may not impact HCPSS school communities because they often include people who are already in quarantine as an identified close contact and not participating in-person activities while contagious.

The dashboard additionally includes weekly numbers of students and staff in quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 test or as a close contact. Close contact or quarantine does not indicate those students or staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

Air Quality

HCPSS implemented a combination of measures to improve building ventilation at each school, including portable HEPA fan/filtration units to provide auxiliary air cleaning in each school’s COVID isolation room, and in portable classrooms where outdoor air is not introduced through the HVAC unit. The HVAC units serving all student-occupied areas of HCPSS school buildings and all other portable classrooms provide outdoor air ventilation. In addition, HCPSS has additional portable HEPA fan/filtration units on order to deploy as necessary, however, all spaces that currently require one due to inability to meet ventilation guidelines are fully equipped with portable HEPA fan/filtration units.

The following improvements to building ventilation already have been implemented at all schools:

  1. Air filters having a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating of MERV 13 have been installed in all HVAC units wherever possible.
  2. Outdoor air ventilation has been maximized at all schools by ensuring that outdoor air dampers, airside economizers, and exhaust fans are working properly in all HVAC units. Air bypass around 16 air filters has also been addressed in all HVAC units to ensure that all air passes through the air filters and not around them.
  3. HVAC system run times have been extended, starting two hours before school occupancy through two hours after school occupancy, to flush schools with additional outdoor air ventilation prior to students’ arrival and after their departure.
  4. HVAC units provide approximately six room air changes per hour durin student-occupied hours.
  5. Demand-controlled ventilation has been disabled to ensure that 100% of the outdoor airflow designed for each space will be continuously delivered whenever schools are occupied.
  6. HVAC system energy recovery units have been disabled during times of non-extreme summer and winter conditions to prevent any exhaust air from being re-entrained into the outdoor air ventilation.
  7. Portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration units have been installed in the isolation room in each school’s health suite, as described above.
  8. Carbon dioxide (CO2) sensors with data logging capabilities have been installed in all school cafeterias. The level of CO2 in the room air, measured in parts per million (ppm) CO2, provides an indication of the effectiveness of the outdoor air ventilation in diluting airborne contaminants.

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Student Meals

Students will not have to wear masks when eating or drinking, however, masks are required when not seated or eating in the cafeteria.

All schools have outdoor eating spaces available on campus for student use as weather and staffing permits to lessen the number of students in the cafeteria. In an effort to maintain a healthy environment in cafeterias, the following actions have been implemented:

  • Additional tables were ordered and have been distributed to schools to help ensure outside eating areas are furnished, as well as to allow maximum spacing indoors.
  • Based on the availability of products from vendors, large tents that are compliant with local code were provided to elementary schools to increase outdoor dining spaces.
  • Plexiglass shields for indoor cafeteria tables were being secured for grades K-6 where students are largely unable to be vaccinated. These panels provide additional protection between students who are unable to be vaccinated while eating when masks cannot be worn.

Frequently Asked Questions