DCPS wants to test 10% of students each week

D.C. Public Schools plans to test 10% of students for COVID-19 every week, officials said during a Friday call with the Council.

At-Large Council member Christina Henderson asked City Administrator Kevin Donahue what the process would be like, and if students would be tested without consent.

“It is students who submitted consent forms,” Donahue said, though the target is still 10% of the student body.

“So if you have some number of people who have submitted consent form, say it’s half the student body, they’ll still be … aiming to sample and test 10% of the overall student body. However, that 10% sampling will come from a smaller number of people,” he added.

D.C. Health recommends testing a random sample of 10% of asymptomatic students per week, officials said.

Donahue said he’d have to get back to the council member regarding whether testing would be done at charter schools as well as DCPS.

Henderson also asked why D.C. was providing self-testing kits to employees.

“In some ways, we’re making it easier for people to choose that option as opposed to vaccination,” she said.

Donahue said it comes down to a ruling from the Department of Labor, “which indicated that an individual who is unvaccinated that has to get tested weekly needs to do so” on the clock.

“So had it not been for that ruling? You’re absolutely right. We would say look on your own time. We have testing sites around the whole region, bring a negative test, but that had to change our own equation when that came into place.”

Council member Janeese Lewis George, who represents Ward 4, said that, with increasing COVID-19 cases, “there are hundreds, if not thousands of DCPS parents who are considering keeping their kid at home and un-enrolling them from D.C. Public Schools, because there is no real virtual option.”

She said she was worried the school system would see a drop in enrollment because charter and private schools have virtual learning programs that don’t require a medical letter like DCPS does.

“Is DCPS considering providing an expanded virtual option for families that are asking for it, particularly for families with students who are 12 and under? What are we going to do to grapple with this?” Lewis George asked.

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Donahue said parental anxiety isn’t unique to the District.

“So we need to build the confidence of our parents and have them come to school because the flip side of what you articulate is that we have a number of students who, … let’s say we did expand virtual instruction to anyone who wanted it. We know from our data over the past year, that … it’s a degraded learning environment, even when it’s well done. Kids don’t learn as well, virtually, even given the best of intentions,” Donahue said.

He added that D.C. has received fewer than 100 medical forms for virtual learning. But, Donahue noted that the city “does not have a process” that would deny the form.

There were also questions about what would happen if a teacher tests positive or has to quarantine. The short answer: Substitutes will be brought in so that students can continue in-person learning.

And what is the process is for alerting the school about a COVID-19 case?

“There’s multiple ways that individuals can notify,” D.C. Health’s Patrick Ashley said. “One is notification of the school itself, or the fact that the lab transmits data to us through something called (Electronic Laboratory Reporting), we get notified and then reach out proactively as well.”

That means DCPS isn’t reliant on self-reporting.

More details on DCPS’ plans are expected next week.

Earlier this week, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said DC Public School employees would be required to either get vaccinated or get tested regularly. Many charter schools across the city are implementing the same requirement.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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