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Another school year like no other: Here’s what you need to know as Howard County schools reopen for the fall Monday

Howard County public schools open their doors to staff, students and teachers on Monday. Here are a few things to know before heading back to school:

Does my child need to wear a mask?

Masks are required in school buildings for all staff, students and visitors, regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status.

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This decision came after new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Howard County Health Department, all of which strongly endorse universal indoor masking.

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

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When should I keep my child at home?

Parents or guardians should keep their children at home if they are experiencing symptoms associated with any communicable disease, including COVID-19.

A student should not go to school if they are experiencing symptoms such as a cough, diarrhea or vomiting, difficulty breathing, a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, new loss of taste or smell, new onset of severe headache or a sore throat.

Do teachers and school staff need to be vaccinated?

All Howard County Public School System employees will be required to provide proof of full vaccination or undergo regular COVID-19 testing for the 2021-22 school year.

The school system’s decision to require proof of vaccination or testing is consistent with the Maryland State Department of Education’s direction that in-person instruction be provided every day throughout the school year.

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The system does not intend to revise the in-person instructional model unless schools are directed to close by the state or Howard County Health Department.

What are the schools’ quarantining procedures?

Contact tracing is handled by the Howard County Health Department with support from and in coordination with the school system’s Office of Health Services.

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 is also recommended that vaccinated individuals get tested three to five days after exposure regardless of whether they are exhibiting symptoms.

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.

What are the cafeteria protocols?

Students will be required to wear masks at all times when they are not eating or drinking, including when entering and exiting the cafeteria, in the lunch line, throwing trash away and after finishing their meal.

Elementary school students will have assigned cafeteria seating, which will facilitate close contact identification for younger students if contact tracing becomes necessary.

Hand sanitizing stations are in place throughout school buildings, including in the cafeteria for students to use before and after eating.

Weather permitting, students may have the opportunity to eat lunch outside to lessen the number of students in the cafeteria.

Further, carbon dioxide sensors with data logging capabilities have been installed and will monitor the level of CO2 in each school’s cafeteria. This system will provide an indication of the effectiveness of the outdoor air ventilation in diluting airborne contaminants.

What meals are served at school?

Breakfast and lunch will be provided at no cost to all students throughout the entire school year on the days schools are open.

The school system’s Food and Nutrition Services will comply with all employee safety, food safety and social distancing guidelines, including using disposable food service items and cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and tables between each meal service in accordance with recommended protocols.

Food and Nutrition Services will also fully accommodate specific food service requirements, including food allergies and the privacy associated with students who receive free or reduced-price meals.

Families of students enrolled in the Digital Education Center may pre-order meals online that are available for pick up on Mondays and Thursdays at any county public high school between 7 and 8 a.m.

Menus with nutrition information for all schools can be view online.

How do I learn about bus schedules?

Buses for some schools will double routes, picking up and dropping off students in groups to accommodate the shortage in drivers.

Students who are at school and awaiting instruction or bus pickup will be supervised by school staff.

The bus locator is available on the school system’s website.

Can my middle or high school student ride an RTA bus to get to school?

The school system has partnered with the Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland to provide free access to public transportation for county middle and high public school students.

Students can pick up the bus passes at their schools’ administrative offices when classes begin Monday, allowing them free access to the RTA’s fleet of buses until September 2022.

Will my child get a Chromebook?

Students in second through 12th grades have or will be provided a Chromebook for academic use and may take the devices to and from school daily.

Students in prekindergarten, kindergarten and first grade will have access to Chromebooks at school when needed for instruction.

All students attending the Digital Education Center will be provided Chromebooks for instruction regardless of grade level.

Beginning Sept. 13, the school system will charge families for damaged, lost or stolen devices.

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