Masks and social distancing will be required next school year

Joanna Chait

DCPS has announced its health and safety measures for the 2021-22 school year, which require masks for all and encourage distancing when possible.

The District plans to put in place “layered mitigation strategies,” multiple safety measures on top of each other, to ensure schools stay safe. Everyone in the school building will be required to wear a mask or a face covering. In addition, DCPS emphasized that social distancing should be practiced whenever feasible. No specific, quantitative measures were provided in the guidelines, although it is recommended that all desks face the same direction.

Similar to the return to in-person learning in the second semester, PPE will be provided, and the “Ask, Ask, Look” protocol will continue next year. This procedure requires students to complete a self screening and close contact assessment at home, followed by a visual symptom assessment upon arrival at school. Sanitation will continue to be prioritized, and a deep cleaning will occur after any reported cases of COVID-19.

The biggest change in guidelines from those released for Term 4 is that there will not be limits on student or staff cohort interactions in any grade, instead students will be able to switch classes throughout the school day.

Every school will have well-ventilated spaces, facilitated by HEPA and air quality filters. Wilson currently has one HEPA filter in each classroom. Students in First Grade and above will eat lunch in the cafeteria; social distancing is recommended when possible.

DCPS is also encouraging everyone aged 12 and above to get vaccinated, although it will not be required to return in-person. All students are expected to return-in person with the few exceptions of those with a documented medical need.

DCPS stated that they will continue to update the community on safety measures during the summer, so the guidelines are subject to change. The mask mandate for all is largely contingent upon CDC guidelines for schools. The current guidance for schools contains a mask mandate regardless of vaccination status. However, more recently, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated Americans could return to life without masks, raising questions about fully vaccinated students and staff. Because of this disconnect, the CDC plans to update its guidelines for schools after the school year is over.

Junior Priya Tang said that she thinks mask-wearing and social distancing practices should be required at the start of the year, since not everyone is fully vaccinated. If conditions change so that “everyone at school is vaccinated and the pandemic has improved dramatically, then masks and social distancing shouldn’t be required,” she said.

Likewise, junior Taylor Lewis-Richardson believes DCPS’s safety measures are sensible, although impractical.

“I don’t know how practical [the safety measures] are but they’re reasonable,” said Lewis-Richardson, adding that, “I know [masks] are annoying and I don’t know what they’re going to do when it comes to lunchtime.”

Other students have reservations about Wilson’s sanitation. “I just hope they have soap in the bathrooms,” junior Njeri Booker said. Booker also feels that mask-wearing and social distancing are beneficial, but worries about transition periods because “the halls are usually really crowded.”

Felix Geffen is a freshman who has never attended Wilson in full capacity, so wearing a mask in the building is a familiar experience for him. “I am so used to wearing a mask indoors now, that no matter what, [next year] will seem new to me,” Geffen said.

Those familiar with the Wilson atmosphere feel differently. “Obviously things won’t go back to the way they were before March 13 of last year. It’s definitely not going to be as social,” Booker said.

 Science teacher Dani Moore said she will “make the best of the situation.”

“Of course I fantasize about teaching without masks in a school with smaller class sizes, but that fantasy is not feasible here at this moment,” Moore said. •