Hundreds of thousands of students headed back to classes in D.C., Virginia and Maryland on Monday.
The school systems welcoming students back Monday were D.C.; Arlington County and Falls Church in Virginia; and the Maryland counties of Baltimore, Charles, Howard, Montgomery and St. Mary’s. Baltimore City also welcomed students back.
In the District, school and city officials were in the Hill East neighborhood in Northeast D.C. Monday morning to cut the ribbon on the reopening of Eliot Hine Middle School, which underwent extensive renovations over the past two years.
Overall, thousands D.C. students returned to full in-person learning at 116 schools across the District. For many of them, Monday marked the first time they’d seen the inside of a classroom since March 2020.
“I call this the Super Bowl of public education. And that’s back to school day,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser told reporters.
While many parents were excited and happy to see kids back in the classroom, others have voiced concerns, especially as the delta variant of the coronavirus has led to a surge in cases over the past month.
Students are feeling a mixture of excitement and anxiety at the prospect of returning to school.
“My fourth grader has coined a term where she says she is both excited and she is nervous,” said D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen. “So she calls herself a little nercited today.”
Speaking to reporters Monday morning outside Eliot Hine Middle School, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said he’s agreed to meet with parents who have circulated a petition advocating for more virtual-learning options for students.
“But we have many families that have been back on our campuses for open houses, back to school events — those families are ready to go back to school,” Ferebee said.
“I think the thing that our teachers know and educators know about this school year is that this is time to reconnect with our students,” said Ferebee. “So building relationships will be critical in these first early days.”
D.C. Public Schools will follow a three pillared approach to combat the coronavirus: prevention using social distancing, masking and updated HVAC systems, screening students before they enter the doors and sharing information with family.
“The shift for us is just managing the scale of now having all of our students back in our building, but it did not change the way we thought about our health and safety protocols,” Ferebee said.
“We’ll continue our prevention work,” he said. “We’ll share transparency any time there’s a positive case in a classroom or a school.
In addition, masks are be required for all students and faculty, and all faculty members will have to provide proof of vaccination or submit to regular COVID-19 testing by Sept. 19.
D.C. also plans to test around 10 to 20% of the student population at random to keep a metric of the current infection rate within schools.
Ferebee was joined by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and other officials to cut the ribbon on the reopening of Eliot Hine Middle School. Originally, built in the 1930s, the renovations included modernizing more than 150,000 square feet of face, building a new gym and a new full-sized baseball field that can convert to a soccer field and basketball courts. The construction work started in 2019.
On Saturday, D.C. officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the city’s new $135 million state-of-the-art Benjamin Banneker Academic High School.
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In Maryland’s biggest school system, about 160,000 students returned to classrooms Monday at 209 schools across the county, including at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, where returning students were greeted with cheerleaders and the marching band.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment since March of 2020,” said interim Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Monifa McKnight.
The school system has rolled out a series of COVID-19 prevention measures. All students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear masks indoors. Teachers are required to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.
So far, 17,000 of the school system’s teachers and staff have already reported their vaccination status and more than 90% of staff who reported their status reported being vaccinated.
“Management of COVID-19 and keeping our community safe is a community effort,” McKnight said. Teachers and staff being vaccinated “contributes to helping us keep a safe environment in our schools and facilities.”
About 2,300 students will stay home and learn, having signed up for the county’s virtual learning option.
Roughly 27,000 students in Arlington, Virginia, streamed back into classrooms Monday, including students at the new Cardinal Elementary School.
Principal Colin Brown and Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán welcomed students to the new building Monday, which will accommodate more than 700 students.
The school system has already announced a series of COVID-19 health and safety measures.
In addition, the school year begins with reimagined plans for security. Starting Monday, school resource officers employed by the county police department will not have a daily presence in county school buildings. Instead, they’ll be positioned nearby and will respond in case of emergencies.
WTOP’s Neal Augenstein, John Domen and Luke Lukert contributed to this report.