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The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

D.C. Schools Reopen amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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Washington’s National Mall (Image Courtesy of MedicalDaily)

Since being forced to suddenly move online in the spring of this year, private and public schools across D.C. have been struggling to find ways to get students back into classrooms safely and efficiently. 

For the many students who face distractions at home, struggle with technology difficulties, and lose out on social interaction, reopening schools in person is crucial.

However, schools must take into account many factors as they plan for reopening during the pandemic, including how to enforce social distancing, how to keep high-risk faculty and staff safe, and how to implement a contact tracing or testing system. 

As WIS has transitioned into a hybrid learning model, other schools in the D.C. area have also been grappling with the decision of whether to reopen and how to do so.

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D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) are fully online through at least November 9. After that, the plan is to open public elementary schools, though middle and high schools will remain online until at least the beginning of term 3 in January.

“I doubt that [Woodrow Wilson High School] is fully going into session, like into an in person session, especially because the school is so large,” Natalie Sipress, a junior at Wilson, said. Wilson has over 1500 students, further complicating the logistics of reopening.

To adjust to the virtual setting, Wilson has moved away from its usual eight course model. Students will now take four classes in the fall semester and four more in the spring. They then have a few weeks before the May AP exams to catch up on what they learned in the fall. DCPS students also have Wednesdays off from classes to do homework and spend some time away from the screen.

“Compared to right when we got on online, [online learning] is a lot cleaner, especially since we have Wednesdays off as a way of readjusting and catching up on work,” Sipress said. 

Relative to public schools, private schools in the D.C. area have had more freedom to reopen in the way they see fit. 

The British International School of Washington has also chosen to open in a hybrid model. Unlike WIS’s cohort model, at BISW, whole grades are on campus at once. Students are on campus for three weeks a month, and each grade stays home for one week on a rotating basis. 

On BISW’s campus, new rules have been implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

“We get temperature tests before we are allowed in, and we’re not allowed to go out in Georgetown for lunch,” BISW IB student Jasmin Toor said. 

Other DC-area private schools have taken different approaches. Sidwell Friends School has yet to reopen beyond an optional on-campus sports set up, which is being done in cohorts. 

Alden Zhang, a Sidwell junior and three varsity sport athlete, has yet to return to an on-campus sports model; “It seemed like it was not worth the trouble” she said. “But I do return to campus for clubs because it’s nice to see everyone.” 

Sidwell’s standout policy is that they have implemented a mandatory COVID test for all high school students. Zhang and other Sidwell students “appreciate the school’s efforts to keep [the students and faculty] safe and informed.”

Georgetown Day School also has yet to return to campus. As of now, students are completely online, but this policy may change soon.  

“The GDS administration has plans to return to the ‘hyflex’ model hopefully sometime after winter break”, GDS Junior Maddy Carol said. 

The hyflex model would consist of a cohort system in which half of the school would attend in-person learning on Monday and Thursday and half would go on Tuesday and Friday, while Wednesdays would be used for cleaning.

GDS students have limited on campus access as of now, but students like Carol appreciate that the school has attempted to “maintain community” by allowing some sports teams and clubs to come onto campus. Nevertheless, Carol is “glad that they’re being cautious” by not beginning in person just yet.

Maret, much like Sidwell and GDS, has remained online with some exceptions for sports, clubs, and teachers. They have begun preparing for a semi-reopening with a hybrid-cohort model and hope to implement it starting in early November if COVID cases in the DMV remain low.  

Overall, schools in D.C. have erred on the side of caution, either opening with strict precautions and social distancing measures, like WIS, or staying online completely. Whether schools have been able to open has also been largely dependent on how large the school is and whether it is private or public; private school students have generally had many more opportunities to participate in in-person school or extracurriculars than public school students. 

By Sophie Steel and Mia Sampson

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