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CuCPS makes mask plans

Cumberland County Public Schools (CuCPS) has released more information regarding masking and other school policies as students prepare for their first day back following summer vacation, including a tiered action plan should COVID-19 cases continue to grow in the area.

In a letter dated Thursday, July 29, CuCPS Superintendent Dr. Chip Jones addressed families and discussed plans for the coming academic year.

With the first day of school scheduled for Monday, Aug. 9, CuCPS will be open on a regular schedule five days per week.

As it is currently up to school divisions to decide whether or not masks are required in school buildings, CuCPS has developed a three-tiered system that will be utilized to determine masking and other mitigation requirements as COVID cases rise or fall.

According to Jones’ letter, the school division will begin the school year in Tier I: New Normal. For Tier 1, CuCPS will continue to implement mitigation strategies such as encouraging hand hygiene, frequently sanitizing high-traffic areas, alternative scheduling and three feet of social distancing as much as possible. Parents will be asked to screen their children at home for COVID symptoms, and the division will continue to quarantine students and contact trace as needed.

In Tier I, masking in school buildings will be optional, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages masks for those who are not vaccinated or for children too young to be vaccinated. Federal law requires face coverings on school buses.

In Tier II: Increased Mitigations, if case counts begin rising locally or there are COVID-19 incidents in the schools, additional mitigation strategies will be applied, including a possible return to mask mandates for certain schools.

If the school activates Tier III: Full Mitigations in the event numerous cases of the virus are identified, the district will return to daily temperature checks at school, increased social distancing to the greatest extent possible and a potential division-wide mask mandate as well as reinstitution of the school’s “no visitor” rule.

Jones warned in the extreme, full mitigation measures may require a return to hybrid or remote learning schedules.

Other CuCPS plans for the upcoming school year include an academic recovery initiative.

“We know recovering from the loss of instructional time since the spring of 2020 will be a long process, and we have a very clear plan to provide intensive and strategic remediation, intervention and support for our students’ academic, social and emotional needs,” Jones wrote. “This began with a most robust summer school program in June, providing students with opportunities to participate in remediation, intervention and credit recovery. The division also plans to hold after-school programs for the fall and spring to promote academic acceleration and enrichment.”

Jones acknowledged in the letter that transportation remains a challenge and the school is continuing to limit the flexibility for multiple bus stops and bus changes. Students will need to get on and off the school bus at the same location due to space limitations on the bus, and due to bus driver shortages and the need for social distancing, some bus drivers may make multiple runs.

“This could result in students arriving at school late or returning home late,” Jones warned. “We hope that you will be patient until these issues have been resolved.”

CuCPS will continue virtual learning this year for families who choose to keep students home. Virtual students will utilize Virtual Virginia’s online platform, though local teaching staff will not be providing the instruction.

“This program maintains a much stricter class schedule which students will be required to attend online,” Jones wrote.