D.C. government, school and health officials on Wednesday laid out some of the protocols and rules that the District’s schools will operate under during the school year that begins Aug. 30, and a virtual learning option is “not something we’re considering,” Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee said.
Officials also laid out a new regimen of random saliva testing of 10% of students whose families fill out consent forms, quarantining for students and teachers who come into close contact with those who test positive for the coronavirus, and guidelines for school sports.
Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, the director of DC Health, laid out the symptoms parents need to look for when screening their kids before sending them to school: Students should stay home if they have one of the “red flag” symptoms for COVID-19 — shortness of breath, worsening cough or loss of taste or smell – or two or more of the symptoms that could possibly indicate COVID-19 — fever, chills, diarrhea, runny nose or congestion.
Ferebee said masks will be required on school grounds – indoors and out — for all students, staff and visitors, only to be removed while eating and drinking, and for nap time for pre-K students. Students in grades 1 through 12 will eat lunch in the cafeteria and are encouraged to eat outside as well.
Nesbitt also said school athletes should wear masks and socially distance when they’re not actively playing, and discouraged students and parents from traveling outside the region during the school year.
Acting Superintendent Dr. Christina Grant laid out the guidelines for a positive case, following guidelines from DC Health: They shouldn’t attend school and isolate for 10 days; their symptoms should improve, and they should go at least 24 hours without a fever.
Students and staff who aren’t vaccinated and were in close contact with a positive case have to quarantine and not attend school for seven days, if they get a negative COVID-19 test on the fifth day; they need to stay out of school for 10 days if they don’t get tested, Grant said.
People who are vaccinated and were in close contact with a positive case don’t have to quarantine if they have no symptoms, Grant said.
Ferebee said students who quarantine because of close contact with someone with the virus outside the school will need to have a note with the contact information of a doctor and a contact tracer; students who are told by the school system to stay home won’t need such notes.
It’s not known yet whether students who have to quarantine will be able to participate in a simulcast learning experience from home. Ferebee called it “a compromised experience for some students” that required a lot of time to set up. “And so we don’t want to be in scenarios where we are entering in simulcast instruction for one or two students out of 25 or 30. We want to be really careful when we will utilize that option.”
Students who are sent home to quarantine will receive devices in order to keep up with work.
Mayor Muriel Bowser said that there were no plans to revert to virtual learning due to any COVID-19 numbers in schools.
“Having in-person learning is a top priority,” Bowser said. “We don’t have a metric that says ‘We are going to shut down schools.’”
Paul Kihn, the deputy mayor for education, said, “We don’t need to be entirely speculative about that question.” He said many charter local education agencies are already open, “and we are seeing some positive cases … in those schools. And what we are seeing is that their safety protocols are being followed. And they are working.”
Shannon Hodge, the founding executive director of the DC Charter School Alliance, said in a statement after the news conference that “All public charter schools are committed to the highest safety standards, including following DC Health’s safety guidelines for schools, as they work hard to deliver the high-quality education our students deserve.”
She added, “As each local education agency is independent, implementation of those guidelines vary. Those interested in protocols should reach out to individual public charter schools directly for additional information.”
Bowser’s full presentation is available online.
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