D.C. Back-to-School Decision? Not Yet

“This press conference today, focusing on our plan for opening D.C. schools, is not going to be the way you expected,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser this morning, July 16, at 11:45 a.m. — 45 minutes later than scheduled. “We have to carefully watch the changing health data in the District the next few weeks and will announce our decision on July 31 on whether schools will open as an all-virtual model or with the addition of in-person classes.

“No one knows what the impact is of having our kids out of school for over a year,” the mayor continued. “We all know it is not ideal physically and emotionally. We all know that it is best for them to be in school. But that may not be possible. We have to see what is safest relative to health and safety metrics.   

“We now plan on July 31 to offer parents of school-aged children in the District options, choices for sending their kids back to school,” Bowser said. “Full-time virtual schools will always be available to any family who needs or wants it.” 

“Every child who needs one will receive a mobile learning device,” said DC Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee. “Thirty-six thousand devices have already have been distributed to families in the District. Five thousand internet hotspots have been donated, and more will be provided for those who need it.”

Hybrid models — with part of the day’s or week’s instruction online and part in-person — are also being considered based on the health data, according to Bowser and Ferebee. Along with requiring mask-wearing, social distancing, handwashing and other sanitary measures, various grades may be able to meet one or two days a week at a school, splitting into cohorts, small groups of students who spend the day together with a teacher. Cohorts will allow for better tracking and monitoring the health conditions of students, teachers and staff, explained the mayor.

“It all sounds very convoluted,” one reporter remarked. “What about families with multiple-aged children going to school at different times?” 

“There will be some choices about priorities for families for children to have similar schedules,” Ferebee answered. 

“Charter schools are by definition independent,” noted another reporter. “Can they just do whatever they want?”

“Every child, whether in a public or a charter school, are all our children,” responded Bowser. “We have almost 20 charter schools in the District and a good history of working collaboratively. If, however, they do something that is against the public health good — for instance, deciding to have all-day, in-person schools when public schools are not allowed — then I have the authority to intervene.”

“We will always be engaged with our public and checking in,” replied Ferebee to a question about monitoring the well-being of school children at home. “We have found ways of doing that online.”

The officials announced that they would be listening to thousands of D.C. parents over the next week via town hall meetings.

While referring to the daily coronavirus update as the basis for making a final decision, the officials did not specify where the red lines were as to keeping schools closed or reopening them. As of July 16, the number of positive cases recorded in the District was 11,076; the number of deaths was 576. The case fatality rate was therefore 5.2 percent (Maryland’s was 4.5 percent and Virginia’s 2.7 percent).  

The number of persons under the age of 18 who have died of COVID-19 in D.C. is zero; the number under 30 who have died of the disease here is one. 

The public health state of emergency will be extended — with some modifications — by the mayor through October, three days before the presidential election.


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