Public schools in the District of Columbia will require masking for all students and staff this fall, according to officials.
Lewis D. Ferebee, chancellor of D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), said in a July 22 update on the 2021–2022 school year that health and safety measures for the fall semester would include enhancements to ventilation systems and cleaning protocols, social distancing as much as possible, and required face masks for all students, staff, and visitors.
Ferebee also encouraged students aged 12 and older to get a COVID-19 vaccine, which he said in the statement would be offered at select D.C. area schools and be available to students and their family members at no cost.
The measures are part of what DCPS calls a “system of layered protections” as the district’s 50,000-student school system prepares to fully reopen for in-person learning on Aug. 30.
Speaking at a public hearing that the D.C. Council held on school reopenings on Thursday, Ferebee said more detailed health guidance would be provided in the first weeks of August as more direction is provided by city health officials.
“We’re in a very fluid environment. The guidelines and protocols shift as things evolve,” Ferebee said, according to NPR.
Charter schools in the Washington area will also require face masks, according to Michelle Walker-Davis, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, NPR reported.
The DCPS masking policy announcement follows a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for all staff and children over the age of 2 to wear masks in schools, regardless of vaccination status. This is a stricter posture than the mask-wearing guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which says that vaccinated students and staff need not wear masks at school.
The AAP said universal masking is necessary because much of the student population is not eligible for vaccines, and “masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated.”
There are dozens of circumstantial studies suggesting that masks work to stem the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, although there has been just one randomized-control trial during the pandemic, carried out in Denmark. The researchers found that wearing a “surgical mask when outside the home among others did not reduce, at conventional levels of statistical significance, incident SARS-CoV-2 infection compared with no mask recommendation.”
Senators in New Jersey recently held a hearing to explore the efficacy and negative effects of mask mandates in schools for children. They found the scientific evidence does not support such mandates.
Mask wearing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has become a hot button issue, with some questioning the efficacy of facial coverings and others opposing mandates on grounds of personal liberty. Advocates, on the other hand, have broadly taken a better-safe-than-sorry approach in the face of underpowered efficacy studies, while generally viewing mandates as a minor inconvenience that helps protect people who are prone to serious complications if they get infected.