Since March, 2020, all schools have been trying their best to make decisions that are safe and healthy for students, as well as maintain their level of education. The beginning of this school year marked the first time since then that there has been any sense of unity across the board. Although there are differences between DC, Maryland, and Virginia public and private schools in regards to COVID guidelines, overall student life looks much more similar between schools than it did last year, when many different online and hybrid plans were in effect.
For example, we all comply with the standard restrictions including indoor masks, three feet social distancing, deep cleaning, and air filtration systems. Most schools, additionally, are planning to have regular COVID-19 testing. Excitingly, the MAC, ISL, IAC, Montgomery and Arlington County public school athletics, and most other leagues have also returned this fall and will have a full season; a large boon of the high vaccination rates and usually outdoor nature of fall sports. Despite these similarities, some private schools have more agency to employ more requirements for coming back to school this year.
The primary difference in schools’ reopening plans is vaccine requirements; this is mainly divided between public and private schools. Vaccine requirements present themselves in different ways in schools depending on the states. For example: teachers at NCS, Sidwell, Holton, and other private schools in the area have been required to be fully vaccinated since last year, as have all DCPS faculty. In contrast, Montgomery County Public School teachers have the choice to opt out of the vaccine and choose to be tested weekly instead. Similarly, some private schools such as Landon, Maret, or Georgetown Day School, are requiring students over the age of 12 to be fully vaccinated before they can attend school, but DCPS and Montgomery County Public Schools cannot demand vaccinations for students due to state regulations. Aside from government instruction, private schools have differed in large group gathering policies.
Currently, there are many differences around policies regarding large gatherings sponsored by the schools. Maret has cancelled their Homecoming dance because of concerns about COVID, whereas most other schools, such as NCS, St. Albans, and Wilson, are adapting their usual dances in order to maintain games, pep rallies, and dances. There are even differences between the schools on the close. For example, NCS’ Upper School Back to School Night was virtual, whereas St. Albans held its in-person, but with modifications: only one parent allowed per student. The most drastic difference, however, is between the size of public and private schools, and COVID policies due to this contrast.
Private schools, with smaller communities, are testing all students and faculty on a weekly basis. In DCPS and charter schools, they are aiming to test ten percent of students on a regular basis, but are falling short of that goal. Likewise, NCS has not yet had cases that are publicized whereas DCPS has unfortunately had approximately 350 student and staff cases since the start of the school year. Despite these numbers, every school’s main goal, regardless of state, is to maintain a healthy community and create a safe space for healthy learning.
Despite small differences, the overall similarities and enthusiasm towards returning to school, bringing back sports, and other extracurriculars is very heartening after a long year of separation. Bonding as communities is more important than ever, and despite differences, all schools in the DMV are thrilled to be back in their learning communities.
Image from Izusek/Getty Images/The BBC