WTOP NEWS - 2-2-2021 - Thousands of DC Public Schools students return to some classrooms - Columbia Heights Educational Campus

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Thousands of DC Public Schools students return
to some classrooms

Melissa Howell
February 2, 2021, 3:15 PM
"There's a little bit of fear and apprehension coming back in a very different way, "said Noel Emilius, an English teacher at Columbia Heights Education Campus who has been vaccinated against COVID-19. "For me personally, I volunteered. I'm very excited."

WTOP/Melissa Howell
A staffer clad in personal protective gear greets students returning to Columbia Heights Education Campus in Northwest D.C. Temperatures are being taken when kids arrive, before they go to their classrooms.

WTOP/Melissa Howell
Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee looks out a classroom window before the school opens Tuesday, during a tour of the school's safety protocols.

WTOP/Melissa Howell
Tuesday marked D.C. Public Schools’ most significant return to in-person learning since the COVID-19 pandemic first disrupted learning nearly a year ago, with about 9,000 of the District’s 52,000 students back in a classroom.

And one of those students, 10th-grader Katherine Bonilla, welcomed the return because of the struggles that came with virtual learning, despite her mother’s hesitation.

“I told her I’m going to just see how it’s going to be,” said Bonilla, a student at the Columbia Heights Education Campus in Northwest D.C. “If I see that it’s not safe, then I’ll stay virtual, and she was OK with it.”

Only 350 students will be returning to this campus, and they’ll attend classes on different days of the week to limit the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Among the other precautions in place: Temperatures are being taken when kids arrive, before they go to their classrooms. Teachers will then rotate in and out of each room.

The return happened amid an ongoing dispute between the school district and the Washington Teachers’ Union, all centering on an agreement that laid out how DCPS would ensure safety.


Noel Emilius, an English teacher at Columbia Heights, said she’s been vaccinated against COVID-19, and her focus now is on enforcing the new protocols and supporting her students.

“There’s a little bit of fear and apprehension coming back in a very different way,” Emilius said. “For me personally, I volunteered. I’m very excited; I did my research.”

She will have 11 students in her first group before moving to another classroom, a change from her usual 25 students in one classroom.

New water fountains and sanitary stations have also been installed at the school, and hall monitors will be on hand. Only five or six classrooms will be used on each floor each day, so deep cleaning can be done in areas where there are no students. There are also isolation rooms for anyone who may be showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Every 10 days, a team from D.C. Health will randomly test students for coronavirus. But, if a student does show symptoms, parents have the option to pick up their child if they don’t want them tested for the virus.

With support from the school system, Columbia Heights principal Maria Tukeva said they are confident they’ve created a safe environment for students. “Safety is No. 1 in our mind, and it always will be,” she said.

WTOP’s Jack Pointer contributed to this report.
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