Mask Mandates Dropped for D.C. Schools Starting Wednesday


On Wednesday, March 16, the District’s public school system will no longer require students and staff to wear masks indoors, DC Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee announced over the weekend.

The action comes a week after D.C. Health and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser – the actual head of DC schools – announced the lifting of outdoor and indoor mask mandates at D.C. public schools. But Bowser left the actual implementation up to District school administrators. On March 8 D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee stated that the “District public school system will keep its mask mandate for the time being while it engages with the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) and other groups representing school workers before moving forward with any decisions.  Our highest priority is ensuring a safe and supportive environment for our students to learn and grow.”

The Chancellor’s decision to remove mask mandates in public schools by March 16 still remains optional for D.C. public charter schools — attended by some 40 percent of District school children.

Mask mandates had been removed for Catholic schools and most private school students in D.C. by the Mayor and the Archdiocese of Washington on Wednesday March 9, two days after the District was sued by two Catholic families. They argued that the mask mandates in schools but not in bars, sports venues, movie theaters and stores was wrong.

There are a number of caveats attached to D.C. Health’s decision to lift its mask mandate for schools. Mainly, masks are still recommended on campuses if Covid-transmission is considered “high” in the community. Transmission levels are currently “low” in D.C. But guidance recommends schools screen students for Covid during periods of low transmission as well as high.

The President of D.C.’s Washington Teachers’ Union, Jacqueline Pogue Lyons, agreed to support lifting the mask mandate so long as the school system reinstates it if case numbers rise. In September, Ferebee had issued a memorandum of agreement with the WTU on how to reopen schools in the fall, stating that masks were required inside school buildings. But contradicting that, the agreement also stated that the school district should align with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – that now no longer recommends masks inside school buildings in the vast majority of the country.

The D.C. State Board of Education had announced last week — ahead of Ferebee’s decision to remove masks in schools — that its members believe that schools should keep the mask mandate in place. “We believe, that for the near future, the mask mandate should remain in place for indoor spaces in schools to protect our youngest students. We strongly support increasing District efforts to promote vaccination of all eligible children, to expand high-quality masks and at-home Covid tests to increase robust outdoor education options for every school to help reach a negligible rate of community spread.”  D.C.’s youngest learners — 3- and 4-year-olds — are still not eligible for coronavirus vaccines.

Locally, Prince George’s County is the only jurisdiction that has not lifted its masking requirement in schools. According to The Washington Post, hours before DC Health eliminated its mask requirement, the Montgomery County Board of Education unanimously voted to lift its mandate for the school system in suburban Maryland. School systems in Northern Virginia were among the first in the region to reverse mask mandates after Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed a law in February banning districts from requiring face coverings on campuses.

The option to lift masking requirements in the District also applies to childcare facilities and colleges and universities as they will it. While Georgetown University remains mainly unmasked, its popular off-campus coffee shop Saxbys at 3500 O St. NW still requires full masking as of March 13.

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