Washington D.C. should offer virtual school instruction this fall

Yesterday, WTOP revealed that all Prince George’s public school parents who want to enroll their Kindergarten through six grade students in virtual learning will be able to do so. This program will be in effect until a Covid-19 vaccine is available for children under twelve years old. It makes sense.

There are still details we do not understand about this virus. My wife Michele and I vacationed in Provincetown, Massachusetts right before Independence Day. No one was wearing masks and social distancing was not being practiced. However, I’m confident that one hundred percent of the people walking on Commercial Street were vaccinated. Approximately, one thousand people contracted the virus that weekend, some needing to be hospitalized. I listened to one individual who became ill state that he had experienced the worse forty-eight hours of his life.

Also Wednesday, the DC State Board of Education sent a letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser requesting that a virtual option be granted for pupils. In rationally spelled out arguments the board requests Ms. Bowser to also relax attendance rules, allow waivers for in-person learning to include one for household members who have a health exemption, end referrals of student absences due to Covid to the Child and Family Services Agency, increase weekly Covid testing to all students and staff from the current policy of ten percent of unvaccinated individuals, add a requirement that all staff and students older than sixteen be required to be vaccinated according to CDC guidelines, and increase resources for mental heath care and treatment. In addition, the communication includes a request that the Mayor issue a new public health emergency so that the city pays for Covid testing, and reverse the mandate that prevents school nurses from caring for students and staff that may have contracted the disease. These recommendations are completely logical to me.

The critical factor is that charter schools may decide on their own to again offer online classrooms. The DC Public Charter School Board can begin today approving amendments from schools that request them to make this a reality. I spoke to one prominent charter leader recently who explained that the school had been encouraged to apply for a virtual teaching amendment only to later be told that the request would be denied. I will not conjecture here about the reason behind the reversal.

CNN reports today that over one hundred thousand people are now hospitalized in the United States, more than double this time last year. From the article:

“With no vaccines available to children under 12 and school starting up across the country, experts are concerned about the growing number of infections among children. Texas Children’s Hospital is seeing an unprecedented surge of coronavirus cases, with a record number of kids being hospitalized for the virus, and children are showing up sicker than before, Dr. Jim Versalovic, interim pediatrician in chief at the Houston-based hospital system told CNN Wednesday.”

Many in our community have first-hand experience with the devastating impact of Covid-19. The impact has been particularly bleak for the Black community, where eighty percent of Covid deaths occurred. It is the prudent and dignified action to take to offer these families a virtual learning option.

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