In two weeks, we will welcome over 99% of our students who have chosen an in-person experience back to school five days a week. I cannot wait to have our students back in our classrooms and to feel the energy and excitement of our division come alive as it does each August, but this year is especially exciting. This year, we are going to have our best year ever!
During the 2021 Virginia General Assembly Special Session I, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1303. This Bill was signed into law by Governor Northam on March 30, 2021 and became effective on July 1, 2021. This law “requires each school board to provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention”. This law has taken away the ability for local school boards to make decisions for their own individual communities regarding COVID mitigation strategies.
Over the past few weeks, I have reviewed documents published by the CDC (including the current order for public transportation), the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Virginia Department of Health, and the Virginia Department of Education. The School Board and I have received a great deal of feedback and perspective from our school community through email messages and phone calls. I have conducted and attended meetings both in-person and virtually with various community groups inside and outside of our school division. We had all intentions to make a decision on health mitigation based on the overall conditions in OUR Goochland community.
However, based on this bill passed by the legislature and signed into law by the Governor, we no longer have the ability to make a local decision for our county. We have consulted with our legal counsel and our liability insurance provider for additional advice on this issue. This law and its specific reference to the mitigation strategies provided by the CDC, will require all students and adults to wear masks while indoors and on our school buses, regardless of their vaccination status when school starts on August 23. To follow state law, as CDC mitigation strategies change, GCPS will also be required to make corresponding changes to our COVID-related procedures.
There will be times and locations where students and staff will be able to remove their masks. This summer, we created additional outdoor learning and dining spaces, and there will be multiple opportunities for students and staff to remove their masks during the school day. For example, students and staff will not wear masks while eating or drinking and will not be required to wear masks while exercising or while outdoors.
Last year, our division was able to adapt to the unknown and ever-changing conditions in our community related to the pandemic. We were fluid and flexible, able to quickly adjust and modify our operations based on multiple factors. Let’s be optimistic that we will be able to remove our masks in all settings in the near future! I remain extremely proud of the employees, parents, caregivers, students, and community supporters on Team Goochland and our ability to overcome obstacles and provide our students with an excellent year last year. This year will be even better!
Information regarding our division’s additional mitigation measures, including questions you may have, follows:
GCPS has developed a strong collaboration with the Chickahominy Health District to support vaccination efforts, and we are committed to continuing this relationship in the future. We will partner with the Health District to hold another COVID vaccination clinic at Goochland High School on August 18 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students will also have the opportunity to receive the Tdap and meningococcal vaccines at this clinic. This clinic will be open to all students and adults who are interested. More information about this clinic can be found here.
Indoor Air Quality and Facility Readiness
Over the past year, our school division has invested nearly $1 million to improve the indoor air quality of our classrooms and common spaces. Like last year, HEPA filters will be in use in every classroom. Upgrades have been made to our heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units division wide to allow for greater filtration and use of outside, fresh air in our systems. We have also recently purchased additional seating and shade canopies to provide opportunities for students to eat lunch and attend classes outside. Furthermore, our dedicated facilities team will be sanitizing spaces thoroughly again this year as they did last year in order to provide the cleanest classrooms, restrooms, and eating spaces possible.
We are prioritizing an in-person experience for our students. In order to accomplish this goal, we will not be using the same physical distancing standards we used last year. We will be distancing students in classrooms, common spaces, and hallways to the greatest extent practicable. Distancing in each space will be different based on enrollment and size.
Health Screening, Temperature Checks, and Hand Washing
Through everyone’s collective efforts, we will be able to reduce the risk and exposure of COVID to our students and staff. Employees, students, visitors, and guests must stay home if they are sick with a fever or exhibit ANY COVID symptoms. We will not be asking families and employees to complete a daily health screening. We will not be taking temperatures at the door. We must all do our part to wash our hands thoroughly and stay at home if experiencing any COVID-related symptoms or coming in contact with someone exposed to COVID.
The start of another school year is a time of rejuvenation, optimism, and excitement as we will all experience new joys and tackle new challenges. As we prepare for the new year, there are a multitude of emotions that are swirling amongst us all: anticipation, excitement, and apprehension, to name just a few. With the support of our community and the work of our team, I could not be more optimistic about our future!
Goochland County Public Schools has demonstrated that we are leaders in providing students engaging, meaningful, and personalized instructional opportunities. We are an innovative school division that is committed to maximizing the potential of every learner and, together, we will continue our proud tradition of excellence. I cannot wait to begin our best year ever!
Our division’s approach to beginning our school year will be included on the School Board’s instructional agenda tomorrow evening. As you have in the past, please feel free to reach out to me (email@example.com; 804-556-5601) or your principal if you have any questions, concerns, or ideas.
Yours in Service,
Jeremy J. Raley, Ed.D.