Monday, Aug. 29 marks what some describe as the start of a school year closely resembling what District students experienced before the pandemic.
As families complete back-to-school shopping and students prepare to enter the classroom once again, some parents, like Nierria Jones-Cooper, have their eye on increasing parent involvement and augmenting aspects of school culture.
Jones-Cooper, a member of the Local School Advisory Team (LSAT) at Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School in Northeast, kept her ears to the street as students last academic year demanded accountability, transparency, more consistent academic programming and access to amenities.
Though she’s unsure what a new administration at Phelps will bring, Jones-Cooper said she wants to ensure that parents have more of an opportunity to help shape the student experience.
“We’re dealing with the budget, faculty and things of that nature in the LSAT but the parent organization handles what’s happening in the building with events,” Jones-Cooper said.
“There’s been a reason why culture is lacking among the scholars and faculty. I’m hoping all of those things can be fixed this year,” Jones-Cooper added. “And we need someone who can advocate for the school instead of giving away things to the District.”
The 2021-2022 academic year ended with significant staff vacancies and questions in the District and across the country, about how to attract teachers. The Washington Teachers’ Union continued conversations about a renewed contract as 6,000 young people enrolled in summer school and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) prepared to announce a two-year, $20 million investment in high-impact tutoring.
These developments took place as some parents, like India Blocker, prepared to send her son back to a school building for the first time in more than two years. Blocker, a Ward 8 resident and mother of two school-aged children, said she homeschooled her son during the last academic year out of concern about COVID mitigation protocols in District schools.
Meanwhile, Blocker’s daughter attended a District Catholic school that Blocker said met her satisfaction when it came to safety protocols.
As the clock winds down to the beginning of the school year, Blocker continues to feel anxious about how her children will navigate COVID, monkeypox and community violence.
“Someone could have COVID and you do not know,” Blocker said.
“We don’t really know about the monkeypox situation. I want my children to have a safe school year but I don’t know if that’s possible,” she said. “I take them to and from school. I teach them to wash their hands, use hand sanitizer and not to touch anybody. [I also tell them] if things don’t look right, give me a call.”
Last Thursday, DC Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee conducted a town hall during which he and others encouraged Pre-K parents to download an online toolkit.
DCPS officials also unveiled additional math and reading interventions for students with Individualized Education Programs, also known as IEPs. Other announcements highlighted a student-centered approach to teaching math and a mixture of tech and non-tech time in the classroom.
As it relates to COVID, DCPS will implement a test-to-return process next week.
However, schools, in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, will no longer screen students for COVID. While DCPS said it will report positive cases, asymptomatic students will not be required to quarantine after COVID exposure.
The onus has also been placed on parents to report positive cases.
The Informer unsuccessfully attempted to schedule a sit-down interview with Ferebee about his goals for the upcoming school year.
But in his statement to students, parents and community members, Ferebee implored families to ensure students have been fully immunized against COVID and other diseases. He also expressed enthusiasm for the upcoming academic year.
“We’re excited to welcome students back to another year of joyful and rigorous learning,” Ferebee said. “We provide a strong slate of academics. We have a plan for our youngest learners and we have adjusted our health protocols in alignment with the CDC. We’ll continue to assess and revise and pivot our plans in accordance with the information we receive.”