DC Public Schools may move forward with in-person instruction soon

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said, and a D.C. Public Schools spokesperson confirmed, DCPS is moving toward resuming some type of in-person instruction by November 9, the start of Term 2 for students. Schools are allowed to include in-person instruction under the District’s guidance for Phase 2 COVID-19 reopening.

For about 12 schools, that in-person instruction could start even earlier than November 9.

FOX 5 was told DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee gave 115 school principals an option to submit a plan to allow small, in-person instruction to return ahead of the mayor’s November 9 target date. Twelve principals did submit plans, which are being reviewed now.

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None of the 12 schools involved will reopen to students this week, but that could change in the future.

Meanwhile, the parents, staffers, and leaders of both the Washington Teachers' Union and The District of Columbia Nurses Association are calling on the school district to release COVID-19 safety plans now.

FOX 5 asked for an interview with Ferebee about these concerns and plans on Tuesday and was told he was busy with meetings. DCPS did provide some other information on the status of D.C. schools.

Chancellor Ferebee did provide this statement to FOX 5:

"DC Public Schools is committed to a safe and successful return to in-person learning for our students and staff. With safety and equitable access top of mind, we are actively considering options that would allow for students, especially those furthest from opportunity, to return in-person to receive the high-quality instruction and critical supports that prepare them for lifelong success. We will continue to work closely with Mayor Bowser, DC Health, other District agencies, and our union partners, to determine the best way to welcome staff and students back into our facilities and look forward to providing an update to our families soon."

FOX 5 is told there is a focus on those students with special needs or those students most at-risk students, potentially returning to in-person instruction first.

DCPS also confirmed enrollment is down by around 3,000 students this year (46,928 students enrolled this school year, compared to 50,012 last school year).  

As of last Friday, the school system had around 84 percent “in-seat attendance.”

There are teachers who want to return. However, on Tuesday, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) President Elizabeth A. Davis, told FOX 5 emphatically, “I’m sorry. As a teacher of 40 years in this school district, I do not feel confident that we should open on November 9. Not at this time.”

Davis also told FOX 5, “Based on the fact that we have not received detailed information as to how this is going to be done, raises eyebrows and it raises concerns. And I hope that we’re not going to rush into this return to this in-person teaching due to whatever pressures are coming outside.”

“We just need a solid plan. We’re already – we’re talking about schools closed in like April – and up to now, there’s still not a solid plan. That’s too long,” said Wala Blagay with the D.C. Nurses Association (DCNA).

Teachers are going into the buildings. Davis and others confirm some teaching remotely from their classrooms. The WTU president specifically said 62 percent of her members have pre-existing health conditions and that learning what safety plans will be in place when students return to the buildings is vital.

The nurses association works with D.C. Health. DCNA is calling for daily temperature checks, rooms for students to quarantine in – and since the summer the association has been raising concerns over the around 40 school nurses DCNA says have left since last school year.

In August, Blegay tells FOX 5 DCNA submitted recommendations on the safe opening of D.C. public schools. Blegay also says DCNA requested a meeting with DC Health to discuss those plans, which we’re told has not happened yet.

For parents – there is a mixed reaction on whether to go back, whether connected to a DCPS school or charter.

“No, not yet, because I actually don’t know what the plan is,” said Mahlet Menwyelet on returning, “Nation-wide, we don’t actually have a solid plan for really vaccines or returning back to work or school and what we’re planning to do as a country so it doesn’t surprise me that our schools don’t have that information as well.”

Amy Kaspari is a charter school parent. “I think we’re pretty comfortable. Maybe just a little because we’re anxious now just to get moving again – but again I think DC statistics are actually pretty good. And as a city, you see people wearing masks, taking all the precautions, I think we’d be ready to move on,” said Kaspari, who expressed trust in the DC mayor’s COVID-19 response thus far.

“We haven’t figured out enough of the details,” said another parent who asked not to be identified. This father mentioned building ventilation as another serious concern.

Davis says the union has asked DCPS to sign a Memorandum of Agreement before any students return in November – this is to provide specific guidelines and safety working conditions that would be available for every teacher to view.