Students enrolled in D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) started their second term in their virtual learning environment this week, much to the relief of parents who’ve requested an opportunity to meet with Mayor Muriel Bowser and schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee about various aspects of school reopening plans.
One aspect involves the Canvas Academics and Real Engagement (CARE) classroom where, in a matter of weeks, some elementary students will engage in virtual learning under the supervision of a DCPS employee who, more than likely, will be transferred there from their school of employment, per a plan shown to Local School Advisory Teams (LSATs) across the District.
“We’re standing to lose our director of biotechnology and that’s critical for seniors going through the college application process,” said Sherice Muhammad, president of McKinley Technology High School’s LSAT.
Since the start of the pandemic, McKinley’s LSAT and other groups have formed working groups to assess the quality of virtual instruction and the public health threat that’s COVID-19.
In a letter to Bowser and Ferebee last month, McKinley’s LSAT and Parents Teachers Organization [PTO] criticized DCPS’ building safety planning and decried McKinley Middle and High schools’ anticipated loss of seven full-time and eight part-time staff members in the launch of CARE classrooms.
“Just because our staff is non-instructional doesn’t mean their non-essential,” Muhammad said.
“We need them at schools where they’re employed. The CARE model is a glorified way of warehousing kids during the week. I’m not in full agreement with that model. The expectation is that we should bring children where they’re learning.”
Since The Informer last spoke with Muhammad, McKinley’s director of biotechnology had been removed from the list of people scheduled to transfer to a CARE classroom. Muhammad said that those who are still part of what’s been called the reassignment process list include Jacqueline Pendergrass, McKinley’s NAF college and career coordinator.
For nearly a month, the District’s public elementary schools had been scheduled to resume in-person learning for 21,000 students on Nov. 9.
However, after the Washington Teachers’ Union [WTU] spent weeks rallying against DC Public Schools’ reopening plans, school officials made the last-minute decision to exclusively launch the CARE classroom program.
Despite the continuation of virtual learning, and the tightening of COVID-19 restrictions in the District and surrounding areas, District officials still have their sights set on in-person learning.
Bowser iterated this point on the Nov. 6 edition of WIN-TV, telling Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes that in-person learning serves as an effective means of learning. She also cited as part of her commitment to reopening schools ongoing conversations with teachers and visits to school buildings, including the Southeast-based facility from where she joined The Informer weekly online program.
For the time being, CARE classrooms in three dozen public schools would be available to children whose parents need child supervision during the school day when most synchronous and asynchronous learning takes place.
The CARE classrooms, scheduled to launch in less than two weeks, counted as part of DCPS’ original phased reopening plan that Ferebee announced on Oct. 5. A school readiness checklist accompanying those plans touted HVAC upgrades and appropriate COVID-19 signage among the requirements for a safe reopening.
Though DCPS officials maintain that teachers were involved in discussions about reopening, WTU officials, along with unions representing school nurses and other personnel, have repeatedly said that wasn’t the case.
Some parents, including John Hassell, have made similar assertions.
Hassell, president of McKinley Technology High School’s PTO, told The Informer that he signed the October 26 letter to Bowser and Ferebee out of frustration with the manner in which Ferebee revealed the reopening plans earlier that month — without consulting with LSATs and PTOs.
Hassell recently hosted a virtual rally with parents from other District public schools. For him, the crux of the argument against reopening boils down to the health risks of facilitating in-person instruction with a likely resurgence of COVID-19 cases on the horizon.
He said the same logic applies to CARE classrooms that will be staffed with McKinley employees and those from other schools.
“They’re cannibalizing high school staff that’s important for virtual instruction,” Hassell said. “That creates a huge problem when high schools are struggling to make sure students are showing up and applying for college. This cripples the high schools and we’ve seen examples in Chicago and Boston.”