On September 22, we celebrated not only the first day of fall, but nearly one month of our children being back at school. Throughout the DMV, the public school systems have welcomed back students, teachers, and school administrators for the 2022-2023 school year as we enter our third school year of COVID. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to report the unending shifts of the pandemic, public schools are committed to providing quality education to improve socialization and academic progress for students. The schools have also created comprehensive return-to-school plans known as “continuity of services” to address the past, present and future of education during COVID with detailed information about school operations.
Parents are encouraged to be familiarized with continuity of services plans to best navigate their children’s return to school.
What is “continuity of services”?
Continuity of services is a legal term that applies to many industries and indicates the continuation of some type of service that is legally owed without breaks or interruptions. In public school education, continuity of services is the school’s legal obligation to provide educational services in a way that gives equal access to all students regardless of external conditions. This is important because the abrupt onset of COVID in early 2020 and the subsequent closing of physical school buildings and the scramble to provide technological access during stay-at-home requirements changed a lot of things.
Continuity of services in local public schools
According to Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Monifa B. McKnight, Ed.D., in a letter on the MCPS’ website’s fall 2022 return to instruction: “continues our commitment to in-person instruction, five days per week, for all students.”
This guidance aligns with my three priorities:
- Building and rebuilding trust with students, staff and community
- Supporting mental health and well-being for all students and staff. [sic] and
- Returning the district’s focus to equitable teaching and learning.
Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) says regarding its continuity of services plan for the 2022-2023 school year that it “will continue to take actions to ensure continuity of services, including but not limited to services to address students’ academic needs and students’ and staff’s social, emotional, mental health, and other needs … [as well as] using layered prevention strategies to do everything possible to ensure our schools remain safe, healthy and open.”
The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), meanwhile, is not using the term “continuity of services” in its public announcements, but on its DCPS Strong website has committed to “a joyful and rigorous academic experience in a safe environment for our nearly 50,000 students … [by] providing strong support for our students that nurture [sic] their academic, social, and emotional well-being.”
Understanding common ground in continuity of services
Our local public school systems share a commitment to regain any strides in learning lost by COVID-based disruptions with an emphasis on in-person learning. This fact should be comforting to parents. At-home virtual learning is now only available on a limited basis for students with special medical or emotional needs as documented by medical professionals.
In addition, schools have pledged continuity of services focused on physical and mental health. In DCPS, for example, all students were required to submit negative COVID tests before the first day of school. All schools also require vaccinations and boosters for all who are eligible. Due to the extreme cases of isolation and setbacks in socialization throughout the last two years, schools have implemented hotlines and new programs making it easier for students to address their social needs and mental well-being in a safe, supportive environment. Parents can be encouraged to know that this pledge has resulted in an increase of the number of school psychologists and mental health professionals available to students and the entire school community.
The public school systems follow CDC recommendations which have allowed for face masks to be optional, in accordance with local community levels of COVID. However, while high-traffic areas such as school assemblies or cafeterias still pose health risks, students are encouraged to wear masks if they feel the need to do so.
Because each public school system sets forth its own guidelines, parents are encouraged to stay informed with electronic notices and refer to their schools’ official websites.
The role of parents
Though ultimately the school systems are the ones responsible for ensuring their return to school adheres to the continuity of services plans, parents can and should be helpful partners with schools to help mitigate the effects of COVID and stop the spread of the virus. Many of the recommended parent actions are simple and straightforward and can go a long way in helping all students enjoy a healthy and safe school year.
At home, parents should be mindful of any symptoms their children might have. When in doubt, encourage children to stay home while sick and provide support when they must isolate at home. Reinforce basic hygiene, especially frequent hand washing, use of hand sanitizer and masks where appropriate. Maintain active communications with your children’s teachers and inform the school of any changes to your child’s health.
At your child’s school, become familiarized with the protocol. While some schools are starting to allow in-school volunteer service, class trips and other pre-COVID programs, other schools are not. Be an active partner with the school by staying informed and following all rules. Navigating the return to school doesn’t have to be stressful. Understanding the continuity of services plans will make your child’s school year more enjoyable!