Letter to the FCPS Community Regarding Health Protocols

Editor’s Note: The Board of Education of Frederick County passed two motions that will affect our COVID-19 protocols. A quick recap follows. For more context, see the letter to the community below.

Recap on COVID-19 Protocol Changes
Modified Quarantining Protocol

Begins: Monday, October 18, 2021
Change: Students will be identified as a close contact and asked to quarantine if they were unmasked and within 6 feet of another student who tested positive for 15 minutes or more. The identification of close contacts for adults has not changed.

Return to Play Protocol changes
Begins: Monday, December 6, 2021
Who: Students taking part in athletics, performing arts and other extracurricular activities that have interscholastic competition.
What: Must either show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 OR participate in a weekly screening test program.

To the FCPS community,

Nearly two months ago, Frederick County Public Schools welcomed back more than 44,000 students for in-person instruction. It's been wonderful having so many students back in our buildings, and I am grateful for all our staff and community have done to ensure this opportunity for our students in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.

As we opened the 2021-22 school year, we continued to implement many of the mitigation strategies necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the invaluable in-person learning option for our students.

Since March 2020, we have carefully monitored the data, and we have listened to the advice of our local, state and national health leaders. We have also listened to many stakeholders regarding our reopening plans and implementation. As a system, we have learned a lot as we try to balance the need for quality instructional programs and the safety of our students and staff.

Using the data and feedback from stakeholders, the Board of Education of Frederick County passed a motion on Wednesday evening that will modify our procedures for identifying close contacts and quarantining students. Students will only be identified as a close contact of another student who has tested positive if they are unmasked within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more.  The identification of close contacts with adults will remain the same. Schools will continue to notify families if a positive case has occurred in their child's classroom.

We believe this decision balances our goal of minimizing disruption to instruction while also minimizing the spread of COVID-19. The decision will reduce the number of students who are being required to quarantine. In FCPS, we've had as many as 500 students quarantining each week and only about 2 percent of those students would later test positive for COVID-19.

As a school system, we must balance the imperative to engage students through in-person instruction while maintaining a focus on safety. We believe that we can continue limiting the spread of COVID-19 in our buildings and reduce the number of students needing to quarantine. Our Board remains committed to following the data most relevant to our schools and community, and we are prepared to make pivots and adjustments if necessary, just as we have for the last 19 months.

Additionally, on Wednesday night, the Board of Education passed a motion to follow the recommendations of the FCPS Return to Play Committee with regards to extracurricular activities this winter.

Starting the week of December 6, students taking part in athletics, performing arts and other extracurricular activities that have interscholastic competition must either show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or participate in a weekly screening test program.

The activities that are immediately affected by this decision are winter athletics, extracurricular performing arts (drama productions, choral and music performing groups), Model UN, academic team and mock trial. FCPS will evaluate other extracurricular groups based on the ability to wear a facial covering while participating, engagement in interscholastic competition and whether the activity is conducted indoors or outdoors.

The Return to Play Committee is committed to giving students an opportunity to pursue the extracurricular activities they enjoy so much. In these cases, students are operating outside their traditional cohorts, competing and performing with students from other schools and counties, where COVID-19 could be more widespread. In many cases, students are taking part in these activities without masks and indoors. This new measure is intended to keep students safe and participating in the sports and activities that they love.

The Return to Play Committee, which has representation from the Frederick County Health Department, local pediatric practices and FCPS staff, believes this additional preventative measure will reduce the level of risk for all participating students while also providing the opportunity to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on extracurricular activities.

We learn more about COVID-19 every day, and I have regular conversations with Dr. Barbara Brookmyer from the Frederick County Health Department. We will continue to keep you updated on our progress as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. I encourage you to visit our FCPS Health Hub for more details. And we will continue updating our COVID-19 health metrics dashboard on Mondays and Wednesdays with the latest COVID-19 positive cases reported to us. Additional answers to frequently asked questions can be found here.

Thank you for your cooperation and commitment as we navigate this public health crisis together.

Dr. Terry Alban
Superintendent, Frederick County Public Schools