EducationLocal

D.C. Extends Distance Learning to End of School Year

But Mayor's Plans for the Upcoming Fall Remain Uncertain

While District officials have yet to solidify summer and fall plans for the District’s public and public charter schools, local students, teachers and parents can anticipate distance learning continuing for the remainder of the school year with “classes” now ending two weeks earlier than originally scheduled.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) recently shared this news amid concerns about the effectiveness of distance learning and the level of participation among students due to COVID-19, disrupting both economic and social activities. Even more, the coronavirus pandemic had exposed the challenges faced by students who, while seeking to meet academic requirements, live in homes without adequate technology.

Public schools will close May 29; public charter schools will close on or about May 29 depending on scheduling the mayor recently announced.

“We will be able to say what’s happening in the summer and start of next year by May 15 and we hope to make up for [the early closure] at the beginning of the next school year,” Bowser said.

The mayor’s announcement follows one similar to that of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) early on in his state’s public health emergency period. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) also revealed that he has extended school closures to May 15.

Since the closing of the District’s schools, the Office of the State Superintendent subsequently waived the 180-day attendance rule that dictates whether a student successfully completed the academic year, along with rules related to the attainment of Carnegie units and community service requirements for high school students.

Upon students’ cyber return from an earlier-than-planned spring break, District officials revealed the launch of an equity fund for the purchase of laptops and expansion of Wi-Fi capabilities that coincided with the start of DC Public Schools’ (DCPS) distance learning program. Teachers and administrators across the city have since gone above and beyond to engage students including one instructor at Coolidge High School in Northwest who turned his kitchen into a chemistry lab. Meanwhile, Anacostia Senior High School officials have used social media as another conduit to boost distance learning participation during April and May.

On April 17, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee, flanked by Bowser and Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn, indicated that the DCPS central office continue to work to accommodate students in need of credit recovery and to ensure that graduating seniors can appropriately commemorate their promotion.

Ferebee and Washington Teachers’ Union officials have reportedly been in discussions about the possibility of starting the 2020-2021 academic year in early August to make up for two weeks lost in this year’s early closure.

Local charter schools, at the request of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, remain in the throes of distance learning contingency plans. On April 6, the charter board posted a document for public comment revising the school accountability policy for both the remainder of the current academic year and next year’s as well.

Tenets of the policy revision, the final vote for which will take place on May 15, include ceasing the collection and publication of performance data, not producing a School Quality Report and not including attendance data in decisions that affect a charter school’s standing.

Some charter school leaders, like Niya White of Center City Public Charter School – Congress Heights, have spent much of the last several weeks mulling the conditions under which students will learn during the 2020-2021 school year, including a smaller budget.

While she and her colleagues haven’t finalized any plans, White acknowledged that the concerns parents and community leaders as well as students’ well-being stand at the forefront of her mind.

“We are planning on ranges of dates and thinking about different iterations of possibilities, like what if a parent is [afraid] to send their child into a crowded space, what does the school day need to look like now with transitions or cleanings to make sure we are doing our part to remain as clean and safe as possible and how can we project any academic gaps or needs for students and families that are new that we have not met,” said White, the school’s principal.

“I would say we are in a deep ‘what if phase’ and from those conversations, we are giving ourselves more opportunities to be and stay prepared for ranges of just in case scenarios,” she added.

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