With DCPS open for solely in-person instruction, members of the public and D.C. State Board of Education are pushing the District’s Mayor and Chancellor to consider expanding virtual learning options. (Courtesy Photo)

By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

Many Washingtonians are still pressing City leaders to consider more virtual learning options and guidelines after more than 1,000 D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) students and staff have had to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure.  However, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee are pushing for in-person instruction and vaccinating students.

The D.C State Board of Education, parents of DCPS children and several D.C. Council members have repeatedly pressed Mayor Muriel Bowser and DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee for expanded virtual options for students.  Currently, only students approved for a medical waiver qualify for virtual learning. 

Ferebee recently doubled down on in-person learning as the default option for students. 

“The guidance is that there are very few circumstances where students should learn remotely,” Ferebee said after a recent event at Brookland Middle School. 

DC State Board of Education shot back. 

 “Considering the ease at which COVID-19 spreads, we urge you to consider expanding the definition of health need exemption to in-person learning to include household member health concern,” the State Board said in their letter to Bowser.  

This week, two parents of students at D.C. Montessori School at Logan sent a 13-page letter to Bowser and Ferebee questioning the school system’s protocol for COVID-19 quarantining, indicating measures are not sufficient to keep children safe. 

While most of the recently 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 coronavirus.  The 129 sixth graders at that school continue with virtual learning this week. 

Bowser and Ferebee have responded 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 District 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. Health statistics.  

Bowser’s new “Take the Shot, Youth DC Giveaway,” will select eight vaccinated DCPS 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 DC 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  gift cards for every child who is vaccinated during the event.

The COVID-19 vaccination is now required for all D.C. Public Schools personnel. All employees, including teachers were required to show vaccination status by  Sept. 20.

District of Columbia City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson held a Public Roundtable on Sept. 21 via Zoom to get an update on the reopening of D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) to full time, in-person instruction.   

After receiving numerous complaints about the more than 1,000 DC Public School students that have been ordered to quarantine after positive COVID-19 cases showed up in 37 DCPS schools, D.C. City Council members wanted to hear directly from parents, stakeholders and DC Public Schools officials. 

According to Mendelson, the roundtable was held to “hear about facilities, pandemic protection, successful teaching, attendance, and other concerns.”

“ Moreover, we would like to hear from the DCPS Chancellor and the Public Charter School Board (PCSB) on plans to mitigate any challenges they foresee,” Mendelson said in an announcement. 

The {AFRO} was present for that meeting and will have a full story online and in next week’s paper about what came from the public conversation.

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 vaccinate.dc.gov website.

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