DC Public Schools (DCPS)

Q&A: What DC Families Need to Know About ‘Robust' COVID-19 Protocols in Schools

D.C. Public Schools' COVID-19 protocols include a mask mandate, random virus testing and enforcing quarantines for those who test positive

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D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and officials have announced their plan to keep students healthy as they return to school amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, including protocols on face covering, social distancing, quarantining and regular testing.

The plan calls for layered safety protocols, which means each school will use multiple strategies to prevent COVID-19 cases from spreading once classes resume Monday, Aug. 30.

After a year where a lot of learning took place online due to COVID-19, DCPS is urging parents to prepare for a return to in-person learning.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said it's important to create procedures so in-person schooling can return for most students.

With schools in some states opening this week as the COVID-19 delta variant surges across the country, many parents are understandably anxious. But there are things schools can do to reduce the risk to their students. Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University Hospital, explains four things schools can do to keep kids safe. (And yes, they include masks.)

“The most ideal place for our students is in the classroom. There are so many benefits — academically, socially, emotionally — that we can’t wait to get back to,” Ferebee said.  

Read below for a Q&A explaining everything you need to know.

How does DCPS plan to keep students and staff healthy as COVID-19 cases rise?

Ferebee says there are three main pillars of DCPS’ prevention plan: prevent, screen, inform.

Those efforts will include consistent testing, social distancing and masking at schools, plus enforcing quarantine procedures after COVID-19 exposures.

What’s the mask policy for D.C. schools?

Everyone must wear a mask on school grounds, including students and staff who are vaccinated unless they’re eating or drinking. Pre-K students don't need to mask during nap time.

Face coverings will be required outside during recess due to crowding, officials say.

Sports participants should wear masks unless they are actively playing, officials say.

What are the COVID-19 testing procedures for D.C. schools?

Each school must have a testing procedure in place, including charter schools.

Schools should aim to test between 10% and 20% of students weekly via a random sample. Only students whose guardian fills out a consent form can be tested, officials say.

Unvaccinated staff will be tested weekly, officials say.

For students and staff showing COVID-19 symptoms, testing will be available if the person has a consent form on file.

Test results should be available within six to eight hours, officials say.

Will DCPS enforce social distancing?

Officials say yes, when possible. "To the extent feasible," school district officials say, six feet of distance will be maintained between people; different cohorts of students will be kept separate and outside learning spaces will be used where possible.

What are DCPS quarantine procedures?

If a school finds a positive COVID-19 case, DC Health procedures must be followed.

Any child or adult that tests positive for COVID-19 should not go to school and isolate for at least 10 days. They shouldn’t return to school until the isolation period is over and they are symptom-free for 24 hours.

If an unvaccinated student or staff member was in close contact with someone who had COVID-19, they must quarantine. A virus test can be taken on or after day five and, if it’s negative, they can return to school after seven days. Without a test, the quarantine would last 10 days.

Vaccinated students and staff who are in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 don’t need to quarantine if they are not showing symptoms. A test is recommended between three and five days after exposure.

Families will need a doctor's note if they must quarantine due to something that happens outside of school, such as travel or family exposure. But quarantines required by DCPS will automatically be excused.

What’s a close contact?

In schools, two students were in close contact “if they are within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes within a 24-hour window within 2 days prior to illness onset or positive test result,” D.C. says.

If everyone is wearing a well-fitting mask or is socially distanced, it’s not considered a close contact.

When should students stay home?

DCPS will notify families if there is a confirmed COVID-19 case in the school or classroom. If a child needs to quarantine, DCPS will inform the family.

Sick children should stay home, too, especially if they have COVID-19 symptoms.

Students should stay home if they have one or more of these “red flag” symptoms:

  • New or worsening cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • New loss of taste or smell

Students should stay home if they have two or more of these symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • An unusual amount of tiredness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Diarrhea

Finally, unvaccinated students who travel outside of D.C., Maryland and Virginia should follow quarantine procedures.

Does DCPS require vaccinations?

Teachers are required to get a COVID-19 test or submit to weekly testing by Sept. 19.

COVID-19 vaccines are encouraged for eligible children age 12 and up but not required.

DCPS does require routine childhood vaccinations against diseases including measles, rumps and rubella and hepatitis.

How will lunch work?

DCPS officials say lunch will be outside when possible. Cafeterias will be open for most students in first grade and up, but seating will be assigned.

What do DCPS families need to do to prepare for the COVID-19 protocols for the 2021-2022 school year?

D.C. officials are asking all parents to fill out a testing consent form which will allow schools to collect saliva samples and screen for asymptomatic COVID-19 cases. Here’s a link to the form.

Everyone should make sure they're up to date with regular childhood vaccinations and get a COVID-19 vaccine if eligible.

Families are also asked to complete a self-screening every day. Here are the questions to ask.

What about charter schools?

Charter schools, in addition to public schools, must enforce masking and social distancing.

All schools must also have testing protocols, but charters can set up their own procedures.

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