DC Public Schools to go mask-optional next week

Students, staff and visitors at D.C. Public Schools can go mask-free starting next week, the school system announced Friday.

The change, which goes into March 16, comes after the D.C. Health department this week updated school masking guidelines, aligning with a recent shift by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that face coverings are no longer recommended in areas where COVID-19 transmission is low.

In response to that change, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said at the time the school system was still reviewing the new guidance and that the mask mandate would remain in place in the meantime.

The move to mask-optional was announced in a letter to parents Friday.

Earlier this week, the board of education in neighboring Montgomery County voted unanimously to immediately shift to a mask-optional policy in Maryland’s largest school system.

In the D.C. area, only the school system in Prince George’s County, Maryland, will still require masks after next week.

In the letter to parents, school officials said they aim to “foster an environment where all students and staff, whether they choose to wear a mask or not, feel respected” and that schools will still provide access to free masks at schools.

In addition, students in Pre-K, who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine will continue to receive weekly COVID-19 test kits, which families are encouraged use every Sunday. The school system is also continuing with its “Test to Stay” pilot for Pre-K students, under which young students exposed to COVID-19 can stay in the classroom if they continue to test negative.

Jacqueline Pogue Lyons, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, which represents some 5,000 members, said teachers have “some angst” about the shift but have been preparing for it.

There’s still some concern there,” she said. “But many of the teachers said that they know that this is a path that that we’re going down, and they’ve accepted it.”

Lyons said teachers want the school system to continue following a memorandum of agreement with the union, that provides polices for asymptomatic testing and other measures.

“We want to make sure especially in certain communities where the vaccination rate is low, if we see that the infection rate is going up, we want to ensure that we pivot back to wearing masks,” she said.

She added, “We have to be able to quickly pivot if the numbers don’t look the way they should, so that we can make sure that we can keep the schools open in-person because we know that’s where children learn best.”

WTOP’s Scott Gelman contributed to this report. 

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Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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