3rd, 4th graders at DC elementary school pivot to virtual classes after positive cases

Several grade levels at a Ward 6 D.C. elementary school have pivoted to virtual learning as a result of several positive coronavirus cases.

D.C. school officials told WTOP on Monday night that third and fourth graders at J.O. Wilson Elementary School, in addition to one fifth grade class, have been instructed to quarantine and have transitioned to virtual learning.

Officials said the school has reported five positive cases in recent days, and 129 students have been told to quarantine if not fully vaccinated.

A schools spokesman said the city isn’t able to share the students’ vaccination status.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance says fully vaccinated people only need to quarantine after an exposure if experiencing symptoms. The CDC issued its guidelines for vaccinating kids ages 5-11 on Nov. 2.

The pivot to virtual learning comes before winter break and contrasts with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s approach to school operations during the pandemic. Bowser and D.C. Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee have been adamant that in-person learning is safe and best for students.

Health experts have stressed the importance of in-person learning, even before vaccines were available for kids, to make up for learning loss that resulted from pandemic closures.

“The health, safety, and well-being of our staff, students, and families is our top priority,” a school system spokesman said in an emailed statement. “In accordance with our COVID-19 response protocol, when an individual reports a positive COVID-19 test, our trained COVID Response Team determines who is a close contact and those individuals are provided with instructions to quarantine.

“Several positive cases of COVID-19 were reported in recent days at J.O. Wilson Elementary School. We are closely monitoring the situation and consulting with public health authorities, and based on the contact tracing results, several affected classes have transitioned to virtual learning.”

When asked whether there’s a metric that would prompt an entire grade level to pivot to virtual learning, a school system spokesman said contact tracers identify close contacts and that “in this case, the positive cases affected these grades.”

Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen said he is contacting the school system and health department to learn more about the positive cases.

Whittier Elementary School also reported in a letter to families on Monday that six students who were in school last week have since reported positive test results.

The school system is required to test 20% of asymptomatic students at every school each week in accordance with legislation the city council passed.

Elsewhere, Paint Branch High School in Montgomery County, Maryland, temporarily paused wrestling and basketball team activities after multiple positive cases, and students at Georgetown Prep switched to virtual learning after 30 positive cases were reported.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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