Howard County Public School System Returning to School Following 2021-2022 Winter Break

Announced by the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) on December 31st:

As we near the end of winter break, we hope that all staff, students and families have had a relaxing and enjoyable time off. HCPSS staff are busy making preparations for a return to school at a time when we continue to see a rise in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Howard County. Keeping schools open for in-person instruction remains our top priority, and it is important that we all do our part to keep school communities healthy.

There is no change to our scheduled reopening on Monday, Jan. 3. The Maryland State Department of Education and State Superintendent provided clarification before the break that “we must keep schools open for in-person instruction” and that approval for virtual instruction will be considered “only on a case-by-case basis under the most exigent of circumstances”.

Please read the following items prior to the return to school.

New CDC Guidance: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this week announced a recommendation to shorten quarantine duration to five days. This recommendation was adopted by the Howard County Health Department (HCHD). Therefore, unvaccinated and vaccinated students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 will have to isolate and may not return to school until:

  • They have been out at least 5 days from the onset of symptoms or upon receiving a positive test without symptoms, and
  • Remain fever-free for 24 hours, and
  • Show a consistent improvement of symptoms.

Students and staff who test positive may return to school on day 6 but must continue to wear a mask for an additional five days at all times while indoors except while eating.

Contact tracing will be led by the health department. Please notify people you believe may be close contacts in an effort to prevent further spread.

Increased Testing in Schools: MAKO Medical, which handles COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated HCPSS employees, will be expanding their testing opportunities to include testing of any HCPSS employee who would like to be tested at a MAKO testing location. Staff needing to be tested must register online prior to being tested. The testing schedule is available online, where updates are shared. Testing will occur as long as supplies are available at each location.

Health Checks: Parents/guardians should perform a health check with their child every day and refrain from sending them to school if they show any symptoms associated with COVID-19 or any other communicable disease. Staff are to follow the same guidance. Please note that student absences due to sickness are considered excused absences. Additionally, parents/guardians should send an email to their child’s school notifying them of a positive test during the break when schools reopen on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022.

Masks: Universal indoor masking remains intact for all HCPSS facilities. Families are encouraged to send their children to school with KN95 masks, which are recommended by the CDC for their effectiveness over the typical cloth masks previously recommended. HCPSS is in the process of procuring KN95 masks for students and staff to have on hand in addition to the masks already available in schools.

Vaccines: The Howard County Health Department and HCPSS encourages vaccines and boosters for all applicable residents ages 5 and older, and there are several vaccination clinics available for first doses and boosters.

Virtual Instruction: Throughout the pandemic, we have maintained dialog with HCHD and school administrators to assess when high levels of unavailable staff result in operational limitations that require the school to move temporarily to a virtual instruction model. If a school moves to virtual instruction, it will remain virtual only until adequate numbers of staff and/or students may return safely and instruction is able to be provided in an in-person setting. These decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis in collaboration with HCHD, while still meeting the State’s requirements and expectations regarding in-person instruction.

Test-to-Play Plan: HCPSS staff are working with a testing vendor on the feasibility of a test-to-play plan for athletics, in accordance with a motion passed by the Board of Education. More information will be provided as plans are developed.

Thank you for your continued cooperation and efforts to keep students and staff healthy as we strive for in-person instruction for the entirety of the 2021-2022 school year.

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Scott E

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