The additional testing, announced during a news conference Monday, follows the district’s “test-to-return” program enacted after winter break. A negative coronavirus test was required last week for all staff and students enrolled in D.C. Public Schools before returning for in-person instruction; public charter schools had the option to require it.
The expanded testing program will operate similarly to how it did last time. D.C. Public Schools will require a negative test; public charter schools have the option.
Tests will be distributed to students before they leave for breaks that are at least a full week of school, said State Superintendent of Education Christina Grant. The test-to-return program will be enacted after a Feb. 21-25 break and again after spring break.
In the coming weeks, D.C. schools will also issue guidance on a test-to-stay program, which allows an unvaccinated student who is identified as having had close contact with an infected classmate to take rapid tests while in quarantine at school. If the tests are negative, they can remain in school. Other districts, including Montgomery and Fairfax counties, are also using test-to-stay programs.
The program will launch in early-childhood education programs and elementary schools, with smaller pilots in some middle and high schools. It’s “highly likely” that more test-to-stay guidance will be shared this month, Grant said.
“I want to be critically clear that it’s important for families who have access to the vaccine to take the vaccine — that is the critical way to ensure students can learn in school,” Grant said.
Also, all prekindergarten and kindergarten students will be supplied with rapid antigen test kits on Fridays so they can test over the weekend before they return to school on Mondays. Officials did not comment on whether a negative test result will be required for these students to return to classes on Monday, but more guidance will be announced, they said.
All D.C. public and public charter schools staff will also receive a test kit each week. The program is expected to continue through the latest surge in cases.
“Our pre-K kids are unvaccinated in our schools; they’re not eligible for vaccination,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Monday as to why officials are testing that grade level.
The district will also continue its asymptomatic testing program. Currently, D.C. schools are testing 20 percent of their student population each week, but they now have the capability to test up to 30 percent of the student population, Grant said.