DC students who don’t submit proof of negative coronavirus test to be tested on site Thursday

D.C. students who haven’t submitted proof of a negative COVID-19 test before returning to school Thursday will be tested on site, schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said, a reversal from a previous plan that drew backlash because it would have allowed students to return with a handwritten note affirming their negative test.

All DCPS students and staff are required to submit proof of a negative coronavirus test before returning to school, but the process was disrupted when some parents reported issues uploading results online.

In a message to the DCPS community, Ferebee wrote that students who don’t get tested before returning to school must do so on site Thursday. Parents who haven’t tested their children will be provided with a rapid test to administer on site on Thursday morning. Unaccompanied students will either administer the nose swab themselves or have a technician complete the test for them.

Students who have opted out of D.C.’s testing program won’t be allowed back in school for 10 days or until they can provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken on or after Jan. 6.

The change comes as parents, teachers and the Washington Teachers’ Union expressed frustration with a plan detailed earlier Wednesday. Initially, because Ferebee said the city was experiencing technical issues with its online portal, the school system said students would be able to bring a signed note from a parent confirming the child tested negative on Wednesday.

A photo of a negative test or screenshot or printout of the negative test result sent via email were also considered adequate confirmation.

“That’s just not anywhere near enough,” said Michael Iacovone, a teacher at McKinley Technology High School, of Ferebee’s first announcement. “I understand that the system crashed, the system crashed while I was trying to submit yesterday and there are far more teachers than there are students.”

The initial announcement was criticized by Washington Teachers’ Union President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons, who said the plan was “risky” because a note isn’t sufficient proof of a negative test. In a statement, she urged city leadership to administer tests at school for students who aren’t tested beforehand.

Monday’s snow further complicated the city’s back-to-school plans, as pickup times for staff and parents to obtain the at-home coronavirus tests were shifted.

In a letter Wednesday, Ferebee said 20,000 families have already submitted their student’s coronavirus test results. City Administrator Kevin Donahue said in a tweet that the number is closer to 30,000.

“Uploads are currently working smoothly, and we continue to monitor the website experience for our families,” Ferebee wrote.

Later Wednesday night, Ferebee said that more than 36,000 families and over 8,000 staff have submitted their results. The data as of 8 p.m. showed that families reported 1,938 positive cases, and 592 cases for staff.

From the data and conversations with school leaders, one school will need to shift to situational virtual learning because of the COVID-19 impact on school operation. Jefferson Middle School will operate on situational virtual learning status for the next 10 days.

On Tuesday, Ferebee said transition to virtual learning will be made on a case-by-case basis. If a transition to virtual learning is required, Ferebee said parents will be notified “as quickly as possible.”

A chaotic final few days before winter break, which saw many teachers and students in isolation or quarantine, have parents and staff apprehensive about the return to school this week. In addition to the negative testing requirement for staff and students, all DCPS staff will be provided with KN95 masks.

While coronavirus cases remain high in the D.C. region, federal and local officials maintain in-person learning is essential and can be done safely.

“In a way, I’m very much looking forward to getting back into my classroom tomorrow,” Iacovone said. “And in another way, I’m terrified to go back to my classroom tomorrow.”

Ferebee said longer arrival processes should be anticipated Thursday.

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.

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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