Loudoun County Makes Their Case


Photo by: Molly DeHaven

LCPS issued their update regarding the return to in person learning after winter break on Dec 30, 2021.

After a drastic rise in Loudoun County COVID cases, students have been trying their best to interpret messages sent out by the school board and predict what decisions will be made regarding the possibility of switching back to virtual learning.

What was the best part of your winter break? Was it the time you got to spend with friends and family? The relaxing break from a stressful second quarter? For many students at Potomac Falls, and Loudoun County in general, winter break was plagued by the recent outbreak of Omicron variant COVID cases. Over the course of time between the day winter break started and when we returned, COVID cases in Loudoun County rose from 193 new cases on Dec 17 to 2,165 new cases on Jan 3 (via The New York Times).

Students at Potomac Falls thought that this rise in cases may be means for a switch to virtual school once again. Junior Jack Pilaro says, “I thought we were going to go virtual [after winter break] after … hearing the amount of my friends at Potomac Falls who were testing positive.”

However, on Dec 30, LCPS issued a public statement with the title “LCPS RETURNS TO IN-PERSON LEARNING JANUARY 3 WITH PROTOCOLS”. A surprising title to those who thought for sure that the new wave of cases would take us out of school for at least the rest of the winter. LCPS ensured that parents, students, and staff understood that they put a great deal of thought into their decision, with the first paragraph of the statement reading “We understand that these times can feel uncertain, but by working together, we can continue to provide a safe learning and work environment.” 

LCPS also addressed the question on most students’ minds: “There are no plans to extend winter break or switch to online instruction. As our practice has been for the entire year, we make decisions related to virtual learning primarily on classroom and school data.” But as cases have continued to rise throughout the month of January, the decision to stay committed to in-person learning has not changed. The statement issued on Dec 30 also gave a timeline for when to expect any updated guidance, saying “If the data remains favorable, LCPS will implement the new guidance, but not before January 17, 2022”.

With the ringing in of the new year and new worries about the steep increase in omicron cases, the CDC updated COVID safety protocols. This prompted LCPS to release new guidance as well on Jan 4, 13 days prior to LCPS’ originally scheduled date. The new guidance shortened the quarantine period from 10 days to five days and also changed the definition of those who were considered “close contact” with individuals who tested positive for COVID. 

The decision to not implement any new guidance before Jan 17 was because “That was the guidance before new information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Virginia Department of Health,” said public information officer for Loudoun County Public Schools, Wayde Byard.

Regarding the safety of students particularly at Potomac Falls, Principal Brandon Wolfe, Ed. D. says that “I trust the people making these decisions and implement their protocols” and that he has “not seen much transmission within schools.” 

LCPS has continued to hold school board meetings weekly, discussing the data regarding COVID cases in schools before publishing new information to the LCPS website. 

According to Byard, “These are administrative decisions made by the superintendent and his Cabinet based on guidance from the Loudoun County Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.” On Jan 12, the LCPS superintendent, Dr. Scott Ziegler, issued a third statement regarding an update with COVID protocols. 

The second paragraph of the statement regarded the future of LCPS COVID guidelines, saying “At last night’s School Board meeting, I announced that LCPS will communicate any COVID-related information on Wednesdays with necessary adjustments implemented on the following Monday. While I do not anticipate sending news every Wednesday, our intention is to monitor and analyze any updated guidance from the CDC and VDH, develop a plan for implementation and communicate any changes on Wednesdays.” 

Students have expressed concern about not feeling safe in the current school environment. Junior Emma Meehan expressed her concern that students will not properly quarantine and protect others even if they are feeling sick. 

“It’s a lot of pressure to come to school and complete all your work, so a lot of times people feel like they need to come to school even if they are sick, which ends up putting everyone around them in danger,” said Meehan. “There is no way to truly oversee that no one that’s contagious is at school… which is why I think going online until the omicron wave dies down is a smart idea.”

LCPS has provided guidance for those who are feeling sick, depending on their vaccination status. “Individuals identified as close contacts who are asymptomatic and submit proof of one of the following may be readmitted to school or work immediately: A vaccine booster, Two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within the last six months, or One shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine within the last two months.” 

Byard also added that “LCPS expects quarantine guidelines to be followed. LCPS works with the Loudoun County Health Department to contact trace and determine how these guidelines apply.” 

With COVID cases in Loudoun County on the rise, schools have been facing the negative consequences of seeing teachers having to leave due to illness. Sub shortages are also being dealt with throughout the county. 

In January we are in a higher need for sub support,” said Wolfe. There are, however, more creative options in case the shortage continues. Wolfe added on, saying “Central office staff members are providing sub support to schools with high needs for coverage. We have the options of combining classes and otherwise being creative, but we have not had to resort to that as of yet.” 

The issue regarding school closures due to COVID are not decisions that will be rushed, and LCPS is expected to continuously update COVID protocols and guidelines through their website and social medias. In order to maximize caution at school, students should actively participate in wearing their masks correctly at all points during the school day when not eating or drinking.  Those who are affected by the LCPS decisions can monitor updates through @LCPSNEWS on twitter and on the lcps.org website.