Some parents with children in D.C. Public Schools are questioning the district's policies regarding which students need to quarantine and test after exposure to COVID-19.
The News4 I-Team learned some siblings of kids who have been exposed or tested positive are being directed to return to school without quarantining or testing.
The current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance says those who are vaccinated and have no symptoms don’t need to quarantine when exposed to COVID-19. The DCPS policy follows that guidance.
But one mom was nearly in tears describing how that caused her to send her 13-year-old daughter to school for two days before she knew she was infected.
"I have a hard time living with that right now. To be honest, that's one of the worst things," said Danica Petroshius, a mother of two who lives in Ward 6.
Thankfully, she and her children are doing okay after testing positive for COVID-19, but she worries about her kids' classmates at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan who were undoubtedly exposed, even though her family went beyond what DCPS required when her 11-year-old son, Max, tested positive days earlier after running a fever.
"Twenty-four hours later, he was fine," Petroshius said, adding that she initially kept both of her kids home from school.
But she said the school district told her because her 13-year-old daughter, Grace, was vaccinated and had no symptoms, she should go back to school.
"I don't feel that's right. Siblings should quarantine. It doesn't make logical or common sense that they wouldn't," Petroshius said.
She said Grace went to school Wednesday and Thursday last week, and then Friday morning woke up congested.
"And I said to her, ‘Are you sure it's not allergies?’ She said, ‘Mom, do you think we should take the chance?' So she convinced me -- and she was right," Petroshius said.
Danica and Grace both tested positive that weekend. So did one of Max's classmates, 11-year-old Khiya Brown. She has no symptoms, but her mom, Shelley Carr-Brown, got the whole family tested anyway, just to be safe.
"If I went by her quarantine letter, she would have returned back to school on Tuesday, had I not tested her, because it's not a requirement for you to test your child when they're in quarantine," Carr-Brown said.
Khiya also has an older sister, Khamani, who attends the same school and is fully vaccinated. So far, she has tested negative.
"They're in each other's face 24/7. [The school] said that's the parents' discretion if you want to send your child back to school," Carr-Brown said.
DCPS policy counts siblings as an unexcused absence if they are not COVID-positive and are not directed to quarantine by the school or a doctor.
"That just doesn't really make sense. Even if you're following CDC and DC Health rules, you should not be penalizing families for protecting the school community and their child," said Emily Gasoi, who serves as vice president of the District's State Board of Education.
Gasoi said the board is not responsible for the district's policies but advocates on behalf of parents. The board plans to address these issues and others at a D.C. Council hearing on reopening next week.
"I think it really comes down to being responsive, and you can't just keep on reciting the same talking points that made sense, maybe made sense, back in June. They don't make sense anymore now," Gasoi said.
Gasoi and the moms all said if DCPS had a broader virtual learning option, it would encourage kids who have been exposed -- and their siblings -- stay home as long as they need to in order to keep other kids safe while still continuing to learn.
Dr. James Campbell, professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said each school district should be weighing the risks and benefits when enacting policies to keep kids safe and in the classroom whenever possible.
"It's tricky to make those decisions, but when the community rate is relatively low and those older children have been vaccinated, the risk is reduced," Campbell said.
The school district's policy does recommend vaccinated students get tested "between three and five days after they are exposed," however that is not required. Carr-Brown said no one from the district ever asked if her older daughter was vaccinated.
"They just said if the sibling is not in the classroom as a close contact, they can go back to school," said Carr-Brown.
DCPS declined the I-Team's request for an interview but said the district will continuously review and strengthen its health and safety measures as needed and based on the latest guidance. In the first two weeks of school, at least 221 students have tested positive for COVID-19, and 1,035 are in quarantine. (Read the full statement from DCPS below.)
The parents hope speaking out will encourage other families to go beyond what the district requires, to help limit the spread among classmates.
"That's my greatest fear," said Carr-Brown. "I don't want to be the reason why someone else's child is going through this."
Full Statement from DCPS:
DCPS is deeply committed to maintaining a safe learning environment for our students. Our layered mitigation strategy to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our schools aligns with DC Health and CDC guidance. We recognize that this is a difficult time for many of our families and the real anxiety associated with the pandemic. We will continue to engage with families about the measures in place within our schools. As we have done since reopening our doors last year, we continuously review, assess and strengthen our health and safety measures as needed and based on the latest guidance.
DCPS’s mitigation strategy against COVID-19 focuses on three key pillars. Our approach is based on preventing the spread of COVID-19 with universal masking, physical distancing, enhanced air filtration and cleaning, and a robust campaign for our community to get vaccinated. We are screening for COVID-19 symptoms with daily health assessments for students and staff, and we will have regular asymptomatic testing for students. We are also keeping our families informed if there is a COVID-19 case within their school and within their class and publicly sharing every notice on our DCPS Reopen Strong website.
Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Patricia Fantis and edited by Jeff Piper.