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DC Elementary school shifts to virtual learning amidst growing COVID cases

Students at Whittier Elementary School will attend virtual classes through December 22.

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — Dec. 15 Update:

Whittier Elementary School will move students to virtual learning through December 22, officials announced Wednesday evening. Students will then go on winter break and return to in-person instruction on January 3.

"The decision to shift the entire school to virtual instruction for the next week did not come lightly. However, with many students required to quarantine and limited staffing availability, virtual learning will allow all students to end the calendar year strong," read a letter from Principal Tiffany Johnson.

Original Story:

A renewed push for virtual learning as more than 100 students in one D.C. elementary school are quarantined just days before the holiday break.  

“I'm tired of my child being a part of this social experiment,” said Alicia Bolton. 

Bolton is thankful her daughter is healthy, but the 2nd grader was sent home from Whittier Education Campus on 5th Street, NW (off Sheridan St. NW). The girl is considered a close contact to one of the 10 reported positive cases since December 9th. The positive case numbers could climb in the coming day according to a D.C. Public Schools spokesperson because contact tracers are still investigating suspected cases.

“The weight of knowing that so many kids at her school are out on quarantine right now, in the midst of omicron spreading exponentially,” she explained, “Oh, no. I'm just No, that's ridiculous!”

According to DCPS, 9 classrooms are impacted with students learning virtually. While a spokesperson could not provide an exact number of students placed on quarantine, several parents told WUSA9 more than 100 have been sent home.

“We have 101 students who were put at risk,” added parent Angela Anderson. “When you look at the 101, and there's only 347 students, that's a significant percentage of students who are out of the building.”

Anderson’s daughter is in the first grade. She said both of her child’s teachers were absent recently.   

“They had to get tested before they could even come back into the building because this is cold and flu season,” explained Anderson.

The flu season plus the omicron variant are reasons these moms think D.C. Public schools should just return to virtual learning until the numbers go back down.

“They need to stop now that cases are rising,” said Anderson. “Go and sanitize these buildings, reduce the risk, reduce the numbers from increasing and have the children stay home.” 

Alicia Bolton’s daughter is due to return to school this week, but she is not sure if she will send her daughter back to school just days before the scheduled holiday break beginning Wednesday, December 22. Bolton believes DCPS needs to consider rising cases and the impact on families.  

"If students can remain virtual until the end of January then parents can plan ahead. But not knowing if you're going to get a call from school is disruptive," she said. 

“From a parent perspective it doesn't feel like there are any contingency plans in place from the beginning of the school year to account for what was likely to happen post-Thanksgiving, irrespective of whether omicron hit,” continued Bolton. “I realize that I have privilege in being able to work from home and other parents may not. So, I can't sit here and say that 100% virtual is the solution for every single parent, because that was chaotic last year, and it didn't work for all families. But what we're doing right now also does not work.”

Both moms support weekly COVID testing for all children in schools. Right now, DCPS said only 10% of students get tested at random each week. Despite the concern, the parents said staff and administration are doing great work considering the many challenges this school year. Though DCPS said they hired contact tracers to help school staff many parents said most of the burden is on principals and office staff.

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