DC elementary school pivots to virtual learning after spike in coronavirus cases

A Ward 4 elementary school will pivot to virtual learning for the final days before winter break as a result of an increase in coronavirus cases.

In a statement, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said Whittier Elementary School will move to virtual learning through Dec. 22.

Tiffany Johnson, the school’s principal, said there have been 14 reported coronavirus cases at the school since Dec. 9.

“This is not a decision we made lightly, as we know the benefits of in-person learning for our students,” Ferebee said in a statement. “We continue to monitor the increased number of cases at schools and robustly implement our health and safety protocols.”

The message from Ferebee comes after all third and fourth grade classes at J.O. Wilson Elementary in Ward 6 pivoted to virtual learning because of coronavirus exposure earlier this week.

In a message addressed to D.C. council members on Tuesday, the school system said it remained “in close coordination with the public health authorities regarding the increase in school cases that reflects rising cases across the country.”

It also said if public health authorities recommended a school closure, DCPS would follow that guidance.

When asked Tuesday whether there was a metric that would prompt a transition to virtual learning, a schools spokesman said contact tracers identify close contacts, and in some cases, it’s determined to be entire grade levels.

Health experts have stressed the importance of in-person learning, and have said it can be done safely with testing and vaccination.

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

In a letter to the school community, Johnson, the school’s principal, said the decision to shift to virtual learning “did not come lightly. However, with many students required and limited staffing availability, virtual learning will allow all students to end the calendar year strong.”

Students who still need devices to participate in virtual learning are urged to call the school.

“I know this is disappointing news as we approach winter break and the holiday season, but the well-being of our community is our top priority,” Johnson said.


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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