Some DC school leaders criticize agency’s plans on handling COVID-19 this fall

During a school board meeting Wednesday night, D.C. education officials, and some parents, criticized the District Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s plans to handle COVID-related situations during the school year.

One guideline is that schools nurses contracted by the city and allocated to the schools will not be able to engage in any COVID-related care for students or teachers.

Jessica Sutter, Ward 6 member of the D.C. State Board of Education, pushed back and asked school leaders what their reactions were to learning that “medical professionals won’t deal with medical needs.”

Washington Latin’s Head of School, Peter Anderson, said that condition caused their school nurse to quit.

“When we pushed back on this, our nurse also tried to push back on this, was told nothing’s going to change and so she quit,” Anderson said. “And so now we no longer have a nurse and we don’t know what the situation is going to be for us.”

Suzanne Wells, president of the Ward 6 public schools parent organization said allowing more families of children under 12 to have a virtual option until they can be vaccinated “would reduce the number of students in the school building and lower the risk of COVID transmission.”

However, in her introduction, acting State Superintendent of Education Christina Grant said the focus should be on giving students access to as much instructional time as possible.

She added that schools will have the options to implement COVID-19 testing programs in the upcoming school year.

“(D.C. Public Schools) and participating charter schools will strive to test the representative sample of at least 10% of students, targeting unvaccinated students,” Grant said.

Grant added that symptomatic testing will be available to all students and staff regardless of vaccination status.

But it was pointed out that schools that want to test all of their students and teachers — including those who are vaccinated — will have to pay for that out of per-pupil funds.

“If we could get access to insurance to be able to test more vaccinated students and adults, I think that would be a game changer,” Anderson said.

He said it’s something that could be easily fixed by Mayor Muriel Bowser adjusting the public health emergency which would allow testing to be covered by insurance

Alice Keaney, an elementary school social worker, said the current plan seems to have been written with old information, before there was more information on the delta variant.

She said asymptomatic testing should be available to all adults in the building regardless of vaccination status.

“We can do better by our young students and their families with more aggressive testing,” she said. “The current testing consent form asks caregivers to waive D.C.’s liability — I’m curious by the ethics of that.”

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