(Courtesy photo/WUSA-9)

By the end of the month, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee are scheduled to announce instructional plans for the 2020-2021 school year they said will reflect the realities of an ongoing global pandemic and allow school officials ample time to prepare school buildings for in-person instruction.
However, not even that assurance, and the rollout of various instructional models under consideration, have eased the concerns of teachers who’ve completely shunned in-person learning out of fear of contracting the coronavirus.
Members of this contingent said virtual learning makes more than enough sense at a time when states are experiencing a resurgence in cases.
“Young people are at the age when they’re more defiant. They might disregard [wearing masks] because they feel like if they’re going back to school, then they might be safe in the District,” said Samantha Brown, an English teacher at Coolidge Senior High School in Northwest.
“I fear that going back gives false messages of hope and security, and students won’t be cautious,” Brown continued as she alluded to sewage and other environmental safety issues she said plagued Coolidge before the pandemic started.
“I know that D.C. Public Schools isn’t ready to prepare buildings. They haven’t talked about how they would solve those problems and provide a safe environment.”
Finalized plans notwithstanding, D.C. public schools are scheduled to reopen on August 31, while its Summer Bridge program has been moved online.
In the weeks leading up to July 16, the original date of Bowser and Ferebee’s much anticipated announcement, District public school teachers received “Return-to-In-Person Work” guidelines prompting them to indicate whether they felt comfortable returning to school buildings in the fall.
The guidelines caused an outcry among Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) leaders who have since demanded Ferebee’s engagement with teachers and the embrace of the union’s ReOpening Schools report released last month.
That document touted the need for balance between virtual learning and in-person instruction, recommended an infusion of $11 million to expand student laptop access, and criticized a local advisory council’s call to reopen schools during Phase 3.
In a statement emailed to The Informer, the DCPS central office said that officials concluded two weeks of professional development where teachers reflected on their spring distance learning experience and brainstormed ways of supporting a successful school year.
WTU President Elizabeth Davis has since rebuffed any notion that teachers had direct involvement in how the schools would operate this fall.
During last Thursday’s press conference at 441 4th Street NW, Ferebee confirmed that all students in need of a device would receive one. He also provided an overview of plans that aligned with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, organized students by cohorts, and facilitated in-person instruction, virtual learning, or a mixture of the two, depending on parents’ preference and staffing demands.
Though plans haven’t been solidified, and the impact of COVID-19 fully assessed, Bowser stressed that the ideal situation places students in front of their teachers again.
“We are driven by this value — children do better in person, face-to-face learning with teachers in their school buildings and their peers,” Bowser said last week.
“We have worked hard to make sure that we had options for families where that could happen as long as our experience with the pandemic allows it,” she continued. “What we’re saying is that we need more time to observe what’s happening and we will make that determination on July 31.”
Neighboring Prince George’s County will fully implement distance learning for the 2020-2021 academic year, while Montgomery County officials are exploring a proposal for an incremental return of students between August 31 and November.
In Virginia, Alexandria Public Schools is hosting community discussions about its reopening, scheduled for early September.
As of Saturday, the District has experienced 578 coronavirus-related deaths and 11,261 confirmed cases. While the D.C. Department of Health (DOH) has reported a sustained decrease in community spread, areas of concern, as expressed by DOH Director LaQuandra S. Nesbitt, include a rate of transmission that has hovered above 1 percent, new cases expected to come within the next few days, and the possible formation of clusters.
With uncertainty about the nature of the coronavirus pandemic, and what has been described as people’s ambivalence toward the virus, local parent and educator Crystal Herrera said she doesn’t want to return to school, or place her son in that environment.
“Parents are not preparing young people for the reality of [what going back to school] would be like,” Herrera told The Informer.
“My son wears his mask every time we are out, and he thinks it’s cool because I’ve gotten him in the habit,” she continued. “It’s not up to teachers to do that. It makes no sense to rush schools opening. It’s not fair to the educators and it’s not fair to the students either.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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1 Comment

  1. We’re staging a viral holocaust if we open before it’s safe. Educators cannot teach from the grave! Returning before it’s safe will greatly increase the number of COVID cases and will be a death sentence for far too many students, teachers, administrators, front office staff, custodians, cafeteria works, support workers, nurses, and security guards, with collateral damage affecting all the above listed families.

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