Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson announced Friday that new COVID-19 vaccination and testing policies will go into effect this month.
Starting the week of Sept. 20, random pool testing of students will be conducted regardless of any symptoms or vaccination status. Parents and guardians must provide consent prior to testing.
According to the announcement, 10% of students with consent forms on file will be tested.
Proof of vaccination will be required for students 12 and older who participate in sports. Unvaccinated students will be required to undergo weekly testing beginning the week of Oct. 18.
“This is another step forward in working to protect our 22,000 employees, nearly 132,000 students and their families, and all they encounter,” Goldson said in a statement. “We will continue to leverage every available safeguard for the PGCPS community.”
The Prince George’s school system — second-largest in the state behind Montgomery County’s — has already implemented a policy, effective next Monday, that would require employees to show proof of vaccination or adhere to weekly testing. More than half of the system’s employees are fully vaccinated.
The health and safety guidelines are based on recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for schools to implement “layers of prevention to keep schools safe.”
Some Prince George’s school board members had pushed for district officials to incorporate a plan before the first day of school Wednesday — a need they said was magnified by news that a student at Bowie High School tested positive for COVID-19.
A letter Thursday from Bowie High Principal Joseph Kautzer informed the Bowie school community that close contact with the student “is defined as being within six feet for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.”
“Individuals who have tested positive will not be allowed to return to school or work until cleared by their healthcare provider or have a release to return to school/work by the Maryland Department of Health,” the principal wrote. “Due to privacy guidelines, we cannot share additional information about the individual who tested positive.”
Asymptomatic and random testing procedures for students have been approved in Montgomery County and in neighboring Washington, D.C.
“The same is needed in Prince George’s County,” six school board members wrote in a letter Thursday to County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.
The letter mentions a Sept. 2 school board meeting when board member Shayla Adams-Stafford requested the school system implement additional testing procedures for students.
Board Chair Juanita Miller, an Alsobrooks appointee, blocked that motion.
“Given that the appointed leadership has failed to provide a plan and has even obstructed the Board from addressing the issue, we now ask you to be accountable for the appointments and intervene to address this important issue,” according to the letter from Adams-Stafford, Vice Chair Edward Burroughs III, Raaheela Ahmed, Kenneth Harris, David Murray and Joshua Thomas.
The positive test at Bowie High “hits home” for Ahmed because she represents schools in the Bowie area.
“So many of us [board members] desired to have a functional plan in place regarding this, before the start of school, and we were robbed of the opportunity to do so,” she said in a text message Thursday. “I can’t help but think that we may have been able to avoid this particular situation had we just been able to do our job on the board, and vote in the best interest of our communities.”
As of Thursday, Prince George’s leads the state in confirmed coronavirus cases with 93,532.
The CDC labeled the county as an area with “high” community transmission. For jurisdictions in this category, the agency recommends schools offer screening tests once a week for unvaccinated students, as well as canceling or virtually conducting high-risk sports and extracurricular activities.
Although 78% of county residents 18 and older received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, children younger than 12 remain ineligible for vaccination.