DC schools chancellor offers student distancing, quarantining guidelines

The D.C. schools chancellor is offering parents a better idea of what to expect when it comes to social distancing and quarantining when class starts Aug. 30.

As D.C. makes a push to get kids ages 12 and older vaccinated with incentives, such as scholarship money and prizes, the head of D.C. Public Schools, Dr. Lewis Ferebee, said the school system is taking a different posture toward social distancing this year than it did when the pandemic began.

Working off guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and DC Health, Ferebee said the school system is writing and implementing policies about social distancing and quarantining for the new school year, just weeks before its start.

Pre-K or adult education should maintain 6 feet of distance, and for kindergarten through 12th grades, 3 feet of distance is the guidance, with the note that 15 minutes or more spent in proximity would be considered a “close contact” should there be a positive case to contact trace.

However, Ferebee said, that guidance is also affected by whether kids are wearing form-fitting masks and how good the air circulation is in the setting, which he said will be much improved with fixes made to D.C. schools’ heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

“So if you are in a classroom space, and you’re in 3 feet distance and those mitigating strategies are being implemented, the individuals that [would] be identified as close contacts would not need to quarantine. If they’re unmasked and those strategies are not being implemented, then those individuals would need to quarantine,” he said during a news conference Tuesday.

The CDC’s website says about social distancing:

“In addition to universal indoor masking, CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms to reduce transmission risk. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully reopen while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as screening testing.”

Ferebee said there is still not a permanent plan to offer virtual learning for those who do not have a doctor’s note approving them to be out of class, but that the school system is determining what it could offer as far as virtual instruction if kids were quarantining.

“If it’s a minimum number of students being impacted, we don’t anticipate having a need to implement simulcast learning, where they’re synchronous learning for the remote student. However, if there are significant numbers, we will utilize that tool, but it would be on a temporary basis,” he said.

The Washington Teachers’ Union is a part of the discussion on quarantining and virtual instruction, he said.

At the same news conference Tuesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said all city government employees, which include D.C. Public Schools teachers and staff, will be required to get vaccinated. A weekly COVID-19 test will be required for those who opt for a medical or religious exemption.

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.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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