Safety is prioritized in Wilson’s new hybrid-learning plan

Madison Dias

As Wilson students attend in-person learning (IPL), there are several measures being taken in order to ensure that safety is being prioritized. 

Each DC Public School was given a COVID-19 Operations Handbook, containing 106 pages on guidance and a school plan template. This book was, and is, referenced when concerning protocols and other procedures. 

To ensure social distancing is being practiced, Martin recalls that Wilson custodians “measured out and put X’s on the floor, where each desk should be. If a teacher moves desks, it’s easy to tell where the six feet of distance between desks are.” Director, Strategy, and Logistics Brandon Hall oversaw the process. 

Hall is in charge of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at the building level, Lisa Richardson is his overseer. “Central Office [ordered] a whole bunch of the PPE, and then we ordered some stuff. And then that kind of was put together to create our stockpile,” Martin said.

There are also high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters within every classroom, provided by DCPS. 

When students enter the building, their temperatures are taken and they must complete the  “Ask, Ask, Look” protocol mandated by OSSE. The procedure includes screening which includes three steps: an at-home self-screening, at-home close contact check, and a visual symptom assessment at school. 

Students who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 are to be directed to the Health Isolation Room and contact their guardian for pick up and to seek healthcare guidance. DCPS’s return to school website has a section where it lists updates on positive tests of students or staff that are in attendance of IPL.

Currently, Wilson hosts asymptomatic testing once a week for students and staff. Students under the age of 18 who wish to participate in the testing must bring in a signed consent form or send it in advance. The consent forms are valid for 90 days, meaning the student may get tested when provided the opportunity once a week. According to Martin, Wilson will probably facilitate COVID testing every Friday. 

IPL staff is also sent weekly at-home rapid testing kits, where their results are emailed back to them within two days. “Every Friday, I get a kit in the mail. And it’s bomb. It’s the fastest, the turnaround time is really great,” Martin said.

As of February 16, 3,100 educators have received their first vaccine. Teachers began receiving their second doses February 15.

DCPS offers a Building Safety Hotline which may be reached via telephone call or email to report a violation of safety codes. “[Wilson has] had one report so far [from a staff member] that [claimed] that teachers were not maintaining six feet of distance when they came into the building.” Martin was sent an email saying that she “needed to send a reminder to teachers to follow protocols and keep six feet distance. I’m planning on [sending] that this week,” Martin said.

 Under both the Staff and Student Health and Safety sections of the Handbook, there is information regarding what would happen if a student contracts the virus. Because there are many different possible scenarios, there are varying protocols to follow for each. 

So far, there has only been one incident of a Wilson staff member contracting the virus and this occurred the week before school was officially reopened. 

Though every situation is handled differently, Martin still is tasked with contacting all who were within six feet for more than 15 minutes. Martin had to send a letter to the IPL staff, notifying them that a person working within the building tested positive. 

Within the letter, Martin included that “The individual will not return until medically cleared.” According to the letter, the building was cleaned and disinfected, including classrooms, office areas, conference rooms, and other common areas.

Martin states that the new role she has taken on is “very” frustrating, comparing it to other roles she had to take on after events such as 9/11. “I feel like it’s going to be contact tracing and sort of managing the virus, that is, every few years, it seems like my job evolves into something else. And now all of a sudden it seems like I’m becoming a medical doctor because we’re doing all this contact tracing,” Martin said. 

The incident reporting tool (IRT) is a database that Martin uses to enter the positive-tested staff member or student’s directory information and testing specifics. Then, a DCPS contact tracer looks at their information and will notify Martin on whether during the contagious period, the person was in the building or not, letting her know if further action is necessary. If a person was in the building during a contagious period, Martin would have to call the positive-tested person and ask them who they were in close contact with for more than 15 minutes for the DCPS contact tracing person to contact all of them. 

Martin reached out to a fellow educator in New York City for last-minute advice before reopening. From her friend, she adopted the idea of using puck lights. There are three puck lights that each correspond to a bathroom stall. When students enter the bathroom, they turn on one of the puck lights to signal that one of the stalls is occupied. When exiting, the student turns off the light indicating that the stall is now available. 

“To be honest, the operations side scared me the most when we were [planning] the reopening of school, and now, that’s the thing I worry about least,” Martin said. “Yeah, I feel safe. That’s not what I’m worried about. I’m really worried about student mental health, student and teacher interaction, [and] students’ grades…” Martin said.