DC leaders express confidence in plan to get kids back in classroom

The D.C. Public Schools system is moving closer to getting students back in the classroom, with plans to have thousands of students return for in-person learning at the start of the third grading quarter.

But after an hourslong hearing in front of the D.C. Council, and testimony from a long list of stakeholders, it was clear there’s still anxiety and trepidation about those plans as the virus continues to spread around the country and the death toll rises.

The city’s education and health leaders continuously made the case that the science is on their side in moving forward.

“DCPS has remained grounded in the firm belief that a safe and healthy in-person learning opportunity is the best way to teach and reach our students who are facing significant barriers to success in virtual learning,” D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said.

“We know this is particularly important for our younger learners as gaps in early literacy, social and emotional development, and access to quality learning experiences, have long-term impact on student success.”

Right now, there are 79 schools offering in-person instruction to about 1,000 students around the city. When the school system expands in-person instruction on Feb. 1, another 4,000 students are already signed up to return to the classroom.

Ferebee says that number has continued to rise in recent days, though the numbers can vary greatly ward by ward and school by school.

The question about safety was raised over and over again by both parents and politicians.

Hours into the hearing, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson asked Dr. Ankoor Shah, a deputy director with the D.C. Department of Health, and the man in charge of the city’s vaccination efforts, point-blank if it was safe. Shah’s answer was an unambiguous “Yes.”

“What we know now compared to what we knew in March is completely different,” Dr. Shah, who is also a pediatrician, pointed out. “If you are able to put these safety measures in place, the risk of actually having COVID-19 spread in an in-person education setting is much lower.”

He added that the risk of outbreaks gets reduced when you “cohort” students together on a regular basis.

City leaders made clear there’s more than enough testing available to stay on top of situation inside the school system.

“We have all indications that now is the time,” Ferebee said. “Based on our own survey of our data, it’s appropriate at this time and it represents what we know about the science. We also recently received additional reports from the American Association of Pediatrics that also recommend to continue to reopen schools and that schools are not contributing to transmission in the community at large.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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