Amid a stark increase in COVID-19 cases during the holiday season and calls among teachers for a systemwide pivot to virtual learning, D.C. officials announced Wednesday that public and public charter schools will continue to conduct in-person learning in the new year.
In addition to COVID-19 protocols that have been in place for months, students, teachers and staff will have to produce and electronically submit a negative COVID-19 test result on Jan. 4 in order to enter the building the next day.
The test-to-enter policy differs between charter schools, State Superintendent Christina Grant said Wednesday.
As had been the case before the winter break, each District public school, depending on the proportion of teachers and students who test positive for COVID-19, can transition into virtual learning for a period of no longer than 10 calendar days.
D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Lewis Ferrebee said parents and community members will receive notification about their school’s transition no later than 8 p.m. on the night preceding it.
Ferebee, who outlined the return-to-school plan alongside Grant and Mayor Muriel Bowser, described it as the best means of maintaining continuity in instruction. He, and later Bowser, stressed the need for students to conduct their rapid antigen tests.
“The goal is to keep our classrooms and schools open in a way that keeps our students, staff and families safe,” Ferebee said.
“We’re working to maintain our health and safety protocols,” he said. “We’ll [continue] our masking, HVAC, and asymptomatic testing protocols [and] screening as students arrive on campus. We’ll also continue to ground in our situational virtual transitions as we think about maintaining as much in-person learning as possible.”
Since the launch of the self-testing express program, D.C.’s health department has distributed 108,000 rapid antigen test kits to city residents and 16,000 people have reported their results. According to health officials, D.C. counts among the nation’s leaders in COVID-19 testing. Jan. 3 and 4 will count among the busiest testing days, as 90,000 public and public charter students, along with their teachers, will visit their campuses and engage in that process.
In the days before the start of winter break, several district schools transitioned to virtual learning in response to a significant number of their students testing positive for COVID. Figures released by DCPS a couple of days before Christmas showed that nearly 900 public school children tested positive for the virus.
Among the 650 teachers and staff members and staff members who contracted the coronavirus in November and December, 60 did so in the weeks preceding the winter break, District officials said Wednesday.
Since the ascent of the omicron variant, Bowser has reinstated an indoor mask mandate and announced an impending vaccine requirement for entry into certain District businesses and indoor gathering places. These developments took place amid the D.C. Council’s passage of legislation that mandates COVID-19 vaccination for enrollment in District public, public charter, private and parochial schools.
At every turn, Bowser and District health officials continue to encourage vaccination, citing evidence that shows a higher risk of hospitalization for the unvaccinated. At the time of this article’s submission, nearly two out of three District residents have been fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the daily case rate has increased and area hospitals reached 74% capacity. On Tuesday, the health department reported 1,868 new COVID-19 cases.
Despite a scenario that constituents have described as grim, Bowser remained resolute in her assertion that a systemwide pivot to virtual learning isn’t necessary. She instead asked that students and parents ease the District government’s job by getting tested and taking other measures against the virus.
“Our emphasis [is] on testing, mask mandates, expanded vaccination mandates for government workers and access to establishments, testing and vaccination standards,” Bowser said. “We will look at every school and review based on [the number of] teachers. It’s important that parents and children participate [in the rapid antigen testing].”