D.C. traditional schools may open on Monday; charters wait

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein reported yesterday that the Washington Teachers’ Union has thrown a roadblock in the plans of the traditional schools in the nation’s capital to open Monday to about 8,000 pupils. The attendance level represents approximately 15.7 percent of all students enrolled in DCPS, which is operated by the Mayor but is publicly funded.

Ms. Stein describes the move by the union this way:

“The union alleges the District has not met all safety guidelines outlined in the agreement signed last month, and it also says the city needs to share more school-specific data on the number of students returning to campuses. The union fears the city is calling for more teachers to return than necessary. Under the agreement, schools that do not adhere to the guidelines that cover safety and staffing issues are not allowed to reopen.”

Apparently, the matter now goes to arbitration. The Chancellor of DCPS, Lewis Ferebee, is not buying the union’s argument. According to the Post, Mr. Ferebee responded:

“We have spent many months and millions of dollars to prepare. . . We know our students are ready, we know our buildings are ready, and we know our staff is ready and efforts to reopen schools on Monday will continue as planned.”

With DCPS planning on returning such a small percentage of children to in-classroom learning, I’m not sure this really meets the definition of opening, which Mayor Muriel Bowser has stated emphatically the regular schools must do.

Meanwhile, the city’s charter schools that educate about 43,485 students, or 46 percent of all those that attend public schools, are waiting the pandemic out. Ms. Stein informed us the other day that many are planning on re-opening in late February or March as more staff become vaccinated against Covid-19 and the number of people who have the virus begins to decrease. The Washington Post staff member added that 2,505 scholars received some in-classroom education in January, which, if we apply the same standard that DCPS is using, may mean that the sector has re-opened.

Commented Raymond Weeden, the Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS executive director, to Ms. Stein about the plans of his school, “I don’t think we have the staffing, and I don’t think we have the family appetite to pull it off.”

I have purposely stayed out the re-opening debate. My experience working in a hospital has taught me over the past ten months that concerns around safety mean we have to take this virus extremely seriously. I’ve seen how easily it can spread, and there is a growing concern by many that as this crisis has gone on people are lowering their guard due to fatigue with the protective measures that we have all been taught to practice.

I’m proud that D.C.’s charters are taking their time to protect their students and staff, and I’m confident that during this period these 66 schools on 128 campuses are providing exceptionally high quality virtual instruction.

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