More than 1,000 DCPS students and staff are quarantining due to COVID-19 cases. (Courtesy Photo)

By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

More than 1,000 District of Columbia Public School (DCPS) students and staff have been ordered to quarantine after positive COVID-19 cases showed up in 37 DCPS schools since the Aug. 30 start of the new school year, according to DCPS statistics.     

“There will be cases of COVID and our systems to detect those cases are robust,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser in response to the quarantine orders. 

“Our systems to isolate those cases are equally as robust,” said Bowser while attending an event at the Capitol Hill Montessori School at Logan this past week.  

While most of the quarantined students attend District elementary schools, Johnson Middle School in Southeast, D.C. is the hardest hit individual school site. The entire sixth grade class was sent home to quarantine last week after exposure to the COVID-19 virus.  The 129 sixth graders at that school continue with virtual learning this week. 

The D.C. State Board of Education, parents of DCPS children, and several D.C. Council members have expressed concerns about the lack of virtual options for DCPS students.  The D.C. State Board of Education issued a letter signed by all nine members as DCPS schools opened urging Bowser to make remote learning options available to a wider variety of students. 

D.C. Council members Janeese George (D- Ward 4), Charles Allen (D- Ward 6) and Trayon White (D- Ward 8) are among the growing number of officials who have expressed the need for more options for D.C. Public School students. 

Students must attend in-person classes at all DCPS schools unless they qualify for a medical waiver, according to DCPS Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee.  The DCPS Chancellor recently doubled down on his support of in-school learning as the default option for DC Public School students. 

“The guidance is that there are very few circumstances where students should learn remotely,” Ferebee said on Friday after being congratulated by President Joseph Biden this past Friday during the President and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s visit to Brookland Middle School.   

While Bowser and Ferebee remain firm on the issue of restricting virtual instruction, they are responding to pressure to improve vaccination rates for 12 to 17-year-old District students. On Friday, the D.C. Government also announced a new competition awarding college scholarships, iPads and other prizes to vaccinated students.  

“As we have seen with the start of school, it is more important than ever that eligible students get vaccinated to protect their families, friends and teachers, and also to ensure they don’t miss valuable time in the classroom,” said Bowser.

Vaccination rates for D.C. students under 18 have improved slightly from August. Fifty-five percent of students ages 12 to 17 have been fully or partially vaccinated while 53 percent of 16 to 17 year olds have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the most recent D.C. Public Health statistics.  

Bowser’s new “Take the Shot, Youth DC Giveaway,” will select eight vaccinated D.C. Public Schools students to be potential winners of a $25,000 college scholarship or an iPad with Beats headphones. 

Gift cards and free AirPods will be given to all unvaccinated District youth ages 12 to 17 who take their first shot at Brookland Middle School, Sousa Middle School and Johnson Middle School. The three D.C. Public Schools vaccination sites are open Tuesday – Thursday, 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.; and Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. 

Parents who bring their children to one of the three school sites for vaccination are also eligible to receive $51 gift cards for every child who is vaccinated during the event.

The COVID-19 vaccination is now required for all D.C. Public School personnel. All employees, including teachers must show proof of vaccination status by Sept. 19. 

On Sept. 10, President Biden announced a six-point comprehensive COVID-19 Action Plan to stem the current spread of the Delta variant and move the United States to recovery from the coronavirus that has claimed the lives of 650,000 deaths since the pandemic started. 

Biden’s plan includes measures to increase testing in K-12 schools, requiring all federal workers to get vaccinated, encouraging state and private sector vaccinations and urging states to implement indoor masking requirements, social distancing and proper ventilation in school settings to maximize in-person instruction. 

Currently, the Delta variant is claiming an average of 1,000 lives per day.   Parents and guardians can access vaccination appointments for their students by logging on the web site.

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