Trailside MS Welcome Back

Ashburn’s Trailside Middle School welcomes students back for its hybrid learning pilot program in November.

Whether the Loudoun County Public Schools system resumes classes on Jan. 21 with any measure of in-person learning remains up in the air, and school system administrators have introduced another core indicator by which to measure schools’ readiness to return to the classroom.

Newly appointed LCPS Interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler on Monday night gave the Loudoun County School Board a rundown of public health metrics that indicate a safe resumption of the school system’s hybrid learning model, which was suspended Dec. 15 in response to a surge in Loudoun County coronavirus spread.

The two previously established core indicators of COVID-19 spread, as provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are case incidence rate and percent positivity rate, both of which surpassed the school system’s determined “highest risk level” threshold last month.

As of Wednesday morning, Loudoun had seen 464.8 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents in the last two weeks, during which period the testing positivity rate was at 14.9 percent — both metrics are still well within “highest risk level.” According to school board consensus, LCPS will resume hybrid instruction if either of those indicators falls below “highest risk level” for five consecutive work days.

Ziegler on Monday said LCPS, in deciding whether to return to hybrid learning, would also consider individual schools’ abilities to implement five key health mitigation strategies: consistent and correct face covering usage; physical distancing “to the largest extent possible;” proper handwashing and respiratory etiquette; cleaning and disinfection; and contact tracing in collaboration with the Loudoun County Health Department.

According to school board documents, schools will be deemed at “lowest risk” of in-school transmission if they implement all five strategies “correctly and consistently.” A school is considered at “lower risk” if it implements all five strategies “correctly but inconsistently.”

Ziegler presented the board with statistics related to transmission in schools, saying the total number of in-school transmission incidents leading to the Dec. 15 closure was 11, including eight staff-to-staff transmissions, one transmission involving a student and a staff member, and two transmissions that occurred during athletic functions. According to Ziegler, no student-to-student transmission has occurred in LCPS facilities so far.

While Ziegler and staff consider contact tracing efforts to be “highly reliable,” the evaluation of face covering usage, hygiene, physical distancing and in-school signage — the responsibility of school Health Mitigation Monitors — is merely a “moderately reliable” metric.

“We’ve had very positive results from that, but it also has inherent drawbacks in that the HMMs can only record what they see, and they can’t see the entire building at once, so there might be breakdowns in mitigation efforts that they’re not seeing,” the interim superintendent said.

Finally, Ziegler presented the board with options for future action. Either the board will take no additional action and stick to the aforementioned metrics for returning to hybrid learning, or staff will draft a motion for the board’s Jan. 12 meeting to implement back-to-school metrics that integrate in-school transmission levels.

Monday’s School Board meeting is available to view in full at vimeo.com/496867756.

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