As DC parents pick up students’ COVID tests, tech issue delays uploading results

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story, originally published Jan. 4, has been updated to reflect new hours for COVID-19 test kit distribution on Wednesday, Jan. 5. D.C. Public Schools changed those hours Wednesday morning.

Days before students are scheduled to return to their classrooms in D.C., parents and teachers stopped by schools Tuesday to retrieve at-home coronavirus test kits.

All D.C. Public School students and staff are required to submit proof of a negative coronavirus test before returning to the classrooms Thursday, a day later than originally planned because of Monday’s snowstorm.

Parents — largely pleased with the testing requirement, but frustrated at the lack of additional safety measures and timely notification of COVID-19 cases among school communities — picked up tests for their children Tuesday afternoon as some teachers reported issues uploading their results.

covid test pickup
Parents lined up to claim an at-home COVID test for students outside Lafayette Elementary School on Tuesday. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)

The return to school comes as COVID cases in D.C. continue to rise. Some parents remain frustrated at the number of cases reported across several schools in the days leading up to the winter break, prompting many to cancel holiday travel plans.

But on Tuesday, the focus was on testing. D.C. leaders hope testing students before returning to school, in addition to the District’s asymptomatic testing program, will limit further spread.

“Pretty easy, no line, no complaints,” said Alan Silverleib, whose children attend Lafayette Elementary School in Northwest D.C. Silverleib said he feels more confident sending his kids back knowing everyone has to be tested.

“It’s the responsible course to take to make sure that all of the kids are safe and testing negative before they walk back into the classroom,” Silverleib said.

Parents have until Wednesday at 5 p.m. to upload their students’ test results. They were able to pick up tests at DCPS schools on Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and can do so again Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students must be tested Wednesday, and results need to be uploaded by 5 p.m. DCPS changed the hours of Wednesday’s test kit distribution Wednesday morning.

Teachers were supposed to upload their results Tuesday, but D.C. schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said the deadline has been extended to 10 a.m. Wednesday because of a technical issue. Some teachers said the site wasn’t working, and others had difficulties getting to sites to pick up tests up because of the snowstorm.

If parents aren’t able to upload their results, they have a few options, per DCPS: Students can bring a signed note from their parent or guardian stating that the child was tested Wednesday and that the test was negative. This can be typed or handwritten. Students can show a photo of a negative test on their phone or the phone of their parent or guardian. Students can bring a screenshot or printout of a negative
test result email.

Ferebee said he is hopeful the issues will be resolved, but if not, they may turn to parents attesting online that they completed the test instead of uploading a photo.

“The goal is to verify the results, which is why we’re working through the technology solution,” Ferebee said. “There are other ways in which we can collect that information. We are working with the vendor.”

Erin Carroll, who has an 11- and 14-year-old, was part of the steady stream of parents picking up tests Tuesday afternoon at Lafayette Elementary School.

“Right now, this has been great. We didn’t wait in line at all to get the tests, so that’s reassuring,” Carroll said.

The school system has faced criticism for not notifying parents of positive cases in a timely manner, but Ferebee said Tuesday that “we are empowering principals to do more direct notifications.”

While some parents and council members have called for a temporary transition to virtual learning, as Prince George’s County has done, Ferebee said transitions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

On Monday, At-Large Council Member Robert White, who is running for mayor, introduced emergency legislation that would require schools to report positive cases within 24 hours, determine a metric that would pivot a transition to virtual learning and have a COVID coordinator in schools by Feb. 1.

It would need broad council support and cannot have a cost associated with it.

In October, Mayor Muriel Bowser allotted funding for each school to have a permanent COVID-19 coordinator and substitute teacher. Ward 4 Council Member Janeese Lewis George said last week in a letter that no DCPS school has fully onboarded either of those positions.

“I’m a DCPS parent myself, and parents and teachers are mortified right now watching the highest number of COVID cases by a long shot in a two-year pandemic, at the same time, schools are underreporting COVID schools,” White told WTOP.

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.

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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.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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