While more than a dozen D.C. public charter schools have facilitated in-person learning this year, leaders within the sector assert that without more equitable funding and support from the District, they won’t be able to expand capacity for safely serving the majority of students.

As detailed in a letter recently sent to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city officials, many of the District’s 70 charter school administrators say to ensure at least one nurse at each charter school, provide access to regular COVID-19 screening tests and to comply with public health metrics in order to safely reopen cannot be achieved without the city’s assistance.

“We’re not asking for more. We ask that the public health supports are equitable for [charter schools],” said Shannon Hodge, executive director of the DC Charter School Alliance, an advocacy organization representing 90 percent of the schools in the District’s charter sector.

The Nov. 9 letter signed by Hodge and dozens of other charter school leaders also requested an opportunity to make recommendations to District education leaders including greater communication.

Hodge said Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn has since expressed interest in hosting more meetings with charter school leaders.

“What charter school leaders know is important, in terms of support from the city, is based on their experiences of serving,” she said. “To the extent that nursing supports are increased for students in DCPS, they should also be increased for charter nurses. It’s not supposed to be just specific to DCPS. The funding is supposed to be equitable – let’s not forget that.”

Some leaders within the public and public charter school sectors support reopening their campuses. However, the recent surge in COVID-19 cases has increased concern among teachers and other campus professionals who’ve criticized District education leaders for not allowing raw COVID-19 data to guide reopening decisions.

Earlier this month, after delaying in-person learning for elementary school students, DCPS continued along with its plans to launch CARE classrooms – hubs in which DCPS students can engage in virtual learning with adult supervision.

In his Nov. 2 letter to parents, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee alluded to the community pushback his office initially faced after revealing reopening plans and rolling out a readiness checklist that prioritized HVAC enhancements, PPE access and presence of school medical personnel on Nov. 9.

Days after the release of the DC Charter Schools Alliance’s letter, District leaders continued to feel the ire of education professionals. On Saturday, members of the District of Columbia Nurses Association converged on Bowser’s front lawn for an early morning rally.

Among their demands: students cannot be brought into the CARE classrooms scheduled to open this week without adequate PPE access, ventilation, and proper preventative processes.

Earlier in the week, the D.C. metropolitan area reported a record number of coronavirus cases that surpassed the seven-day average of more than 3,000. In neighboring Maryland and Virginia, COVID-19 cases have either surpassed the summer’s horrific totals or will reach them in the coming days.

In response, Govs. Larry Hogan (R-Md.) and Ralph Northam (D-Va.) have immediately reduced the maximum capacity allowed for restaurants and implemented other restrictions.

Bowser has confirmed that she, too, will initiate similar restrictions should conditions worsen.

For some educators like Bernida Thompson, there’s sufficient evidence to support making such adjustments now with the commitment to only provide virtual learning until the pandemic’s over.

Though she signed the DC Charter School Alliance’s letter for equitable resources, Thompson, the principal of Roots Public Charter School, said that internet hotspots and laptops count among her greatest priorities.

Since March, Roots has facilitated online learning in various configurations including one initiative supported by the United Planning Organization (UPO) in Temple Hills led by Project Director Cheryl Christmas. The foster grandparents program features elders who read and tutor children in a virtual setting, many utilizing devices provided by UPO.

Still, Thompson said more needs to be done.

“Is the education we’re talking about so serious that parents can’t do it at home with the expert teaching and guidance of professional teachers online?” Thompson asked.

“[Educators] of some online schools have been proficiently doing virtual education for more than 20 years. Colleges have been doing it for years. In terms of preschool, look at how successful Sesame Street engaged and taught children. If the city invests in virtual education to the max, then our children can learn. Those who don’t have the devices and hot spots would have them. That’s the way to go,” she said.

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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