Masks, Asymptomatic Testing Required at DC Schools

COVID Protocols Outlined for Return to School

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Masked and socially distanced students at Sheridan School. Courtesy: Sheridan School

Masks, social distancing and asymptomatic testing will be required at DC schools for the start of the 2021-22 school year. Staff need to have proof of COVID vaccine by Sept. 19 and students need to have all required immunizations by the 20th day of school.

Student requirements do not include the COVID-19 vaccine, although it is recommended and encouraged for eligible students aged 12 years and older.

The announcement about school COVID protocols was made by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and a range of DC agency representatives at a press conference held Wednesday, Aug. 18.

DC Public Schools (DCPS) said that, for the 2021-22 school year, schools in the public system will test a representative sample of 10 percent of a school population every week. All families must provide a consent form in order for students to participate. DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said that the more students are involved, the more informative this data will be.

Parents can obtain COVID-19 testing forms from their schools and on the OSSE website at bit.ly/COVIDtestform

Student travel outside of the region is discouraged while school is in session, Nesbitt added. DC Health recommends, but does not require, that anyone traveling outside the DMV quarantine for 10 days. If they test 3 to 5 days after the return and the test is negative, the quarantine can end after 7 days.

Everyone, from students to staff to visitors, will be required to wear a face mask on DCPS property, both indoors and outside on the grounds, said DCPS Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee. The only exceptions are while eating, drinking and during Pre-K naps. Students will be physically distanced “to the greatest extent possible” with desks 6 feet apart where space permits, Ferebee said.

School sports will take place, but students must wear masks unless actively playing on the field.

Student travel is discouraged outside the DMV during the school year. coronavirus.dc.gov

DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) Superintendent Christina Grant said private and public charter schools have options to implement school testing. They can opt into OSSE’s saliva-based PCR testing or they can establish their own program.

Grant demonstrated the OSSE testing system at the Aug. 18th press conference, saying it was simple and user-friendly.

Quarantine procedures in response to a positive case detected in a member of the school community vary for vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff. Unvaccinated individuals should quarantine for 7 days, said Grant. They can return on day 7 if they get a negative test result from a test taken on or after day 5. Vaccinated individuals do not need to quarantine if they aren’t showing symptoms. However, it is recommended they test 3 to 5 days after they are exposed.

Quarantined students will be issued a device to receive online instruction. If a student is quarantining at home due an exposure outside the classroom, they will need to provide documentation to schools for attendance purposes.

Families will be informed of relevant COVID cases, said Ferebee, and schools will follow guidance from DC Health.

Mayor Bowser said that she expects that a range of safety protocols will be activated throughout the year. But she noted that there is no established metric for when to shut down DC schools. The District is operating under the premise that a return to school is a priority for all students, the Mayor said.

“We will see more cases,” Bowser said of students in classes, “but we don’t anticipate we’ll see more cases than in the general community. If Dr. Nesbitt sees a trend in the community that is of concern, we will take action.”

15,000 students attended classes in person last year. 12,000 had lessons in school buildings over the summer and another 5,713 were together on-site for DPR in-person programming. “So we know that we have put in place the types of layered protections that keep our children safe,” said Mayor Bowser, pointing to these examples.

See the full presentation on COVID protocols for back-to-school at coronavirus.dc.gov