So far, the D.C. mayoral race has turned into a referendum on the Bowser administration, especially as it relates to its stewardship of public schools during the pandemic and how it addresses District residents’ economic woes.
Andre Davis, a former D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) teacher, counts among a group of mayoral candidates who’ve not only criticized D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s decision to open schools amid the omicron variant but called into question Bowser’s judgment on other issues.
“District residents are frustrated with the lack of transparency and concern shown by the current administration. They feel like it’s detached when it comes to education,” said Davis, a Ward 6 resident and DCPS alumnus with nearly a decade of experience in the classroom.
Since declaring his candidacy last November, Davis has shaped his campaign, themed “ACT Right,” in solidarity with teachers, parents and young people who’ve felt silenced by the District government in areas of education, public safety and housing. ACT stands for accountability, communication and trust, three areas Davis said he wants to reestablish.
If elected, Davis said he will relinquish control of District public schools to the DC State Board of Education. He also promised to forge more of an amicable relationship with the D.C. Council and place an emphasis on expanding affordable housing through community development.
Davis, whose teaching experience includes stints at Leckie Elementary School in Southwest, Mary McLeod Bethune Day Academy Public Charter School in Northeast and Whittier Elementary School in Northwest as an English, science and math teacher, left the school system in 2019 in reaction to what he described as a culture of nepotism and heavy emphasis on teacher evaluations.
He said such conditions have worsened during the pandemic, to the detriment of teachers and the communities they serve.
“We saw how they have handled collective bargaining and COVID leave for teachers [and] the selection of chancellors,” Davis said. “People have also seen how the current administration handled our underhoused and unhoused residents.”
On Jan. 7, Davis hosted a virtual town hall to delve into his campaign platform and answer community members’ questions. The event followed the release of an op-ed he wrote in solidarity with teachers who’ve expressed disdain about on-the-ground conditions in District schools throughout the pandemic.
During the town hall, teachers highlighted safety concerns and gripes with DCPS central office administrators who didn’t follow through with infrastructure and HVAC repairs in some of the schools. Other complaints centered on the lack of KN95 masks for students and extra COVID-19 mitigtion responsibilities placed on teachers at a time when schools are experiencing staff shortages.
Less than a week later, on Jan. 13, DCPS officials announced the start of targeted weekly testing for PK-3 and PK-4 students. They also revealed that the central office would extend test-to-return protocols in February and April, when students are scheduled to return from short breaks, while ramping up weekly asymptomatic testing to meet its target of 20 percent in each District public school.
DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee, who officially entered his role in 2019, described these developments as part of a process to review and enhance COVID-19 mitigation strategies that keep students safe while learning in person. However, questions remain about whether non-DCPS retiree substitute teachers will receive a pay increase or if the District will implement COVID leave for teachers.
According to the DC Board of Elections, Davis counts among five Democrats vying for Bowser’s seat. With the District’s overwhelmingly Democratic majority, it’s often assumed that the winner of the June 21 primary would become mayor by default.
As of Jan. 16, the field of Democratic mayoral candidates includes D.C. Councilmembers Robert White (D-At large) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and James Butler, all of whom have either criticized the Bowser administration in recent weeks, or challenged her incumbency during the last mayoral race.
For the most part, Davis’ opponents have experience in D.C. government, a factor he doesn’t consider essential in winning the hearts and minds of voters.
“People know me as an educator and private citizen and my passion is in those particular areas,” Davis said. “Sometimes we need a breath of fresh air and not do things in the traditional sense. We need alternative pathways. I’m not engulfed in the current struggles of the D.C. government [and] I’m not engulfed in the arguments that [city officials] have had in the last four to eight years.”