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D.C. public schools requiring negative covid tests after Thanksgiving

Students will be expected to take their tests at home on Sunday and upload their results online

Educators check in students at D.C.'s Harriet Tubman Elementary School who tested negative for the coronavirus in January. The school system’s “test-to-return” policy is in effect after Thanksgiving. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

Students and staff in D.C. public schools must test negative for the coronavirus before returning to school after Thanksgiving break, district officials said.

The school system’s “test-to-return” policy is one that has been used throughout the pandemic. Students were also required to show proof of a negative coronavirus test before the first day of school in August and after a two-week winter break last school year.

The public schools started distributing coronavirus test kits on Thursday, according to officials. Families can also pick up test kits at any of the city’s Covid Centers, which are located in all eight wards.

D.C. Council votes to delay students’ coronavirus vaccine requirement

Students will be expected to take their tests at home on Sunday and upload their results online. Schools will also accept photos or copies of students’ results if they don’t have internet access at home.

The district’s approach sets it apart from other school systems in the region, which have dropped test-to-return policies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped recommending routine screening in schools but said campuses could consider testing for large events, “high-risk activities” — such as contact sports or theater — and returns after holiday breaks.

In Montgomery County, schools are providing coronavirus test kits to staff and students, but proof of a negative test is not required to return to school after the break. Last year, schools throughout the region saw an uptick in coronavirus cases on their campuses after Thanksgiving, forcing some to move to virtual classes, suspend in-person activities or start an early holiday break.

D.C. required negative coronavirus tests to return to school. Did it work?

D.C. schools required students and staff to provide negative coronavirus test results when they returned from winter break in early January. Some schools used color-coded wristbands to identify students who showed proof of a negative test, and others staggered arrival times for students who needed to be tested on-site.

There were some hiccups in the process. An online portal malfunctioned as staff tried to upload results a few days before school began, and some families experienced technical glitches trying to share their students’ statuses. When the testing data was finally uploaded, some of the numbers did not line up with the latest enrollment figures — showing more test submissions than students or staffers.

Still, district officials said, the initiative was the safest way to reopen schools and maintain in-person learning.

The pandemic’s impact on education

The latest: Updated coronavirus booster shots are now available for children as young as 5. To date, more than 10.5 million children have lost one or both parents or caregivers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the classroom: Amid a teacher shortage, states desperate to fill teaching jobs have relaxed job requirements as staffing crises rise in many schools. American students’ test scores have even plummeted to levels unseen for decades. One D.C. school is using COVID relief funds to target students on the verge of failure.

Higher education: College and university enrollment is nowhere near pandemic level, experts worry. ACT and SAT testing have rebounded modestly since the massive disruptions early in the coronavirus pandemic, and many colleges are also easing mask rules.

DMV news: Most of Prince George’s students are scoring below grade level on district tests. D.C. Public School’s new reading curriculum is designed to help improve literacy among the city’s youngest readers.

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