In the weeks and months leading up to the D.C. school lottery deadline, administrators at Tyler Elementary School have been virtually engaging prospective families, all while highlighting their efforts to safely facilitate CARE classrooms and the phased reopening process.
For Tyler Elementary Principal Jasmine Brann, such a strategy amid a pandemic that has claimed more than 1,000 lives in the District ensures that parents mulling whether to send students back to the classroom remain confident that doing so benefits their child.
“It was important to be transparent with parents about progress and how things were coming along. Our first CARE classroom was the pilot [and] it allowed us to open up to different lessons,” Brann told The Informer during a showcase of PK3 classrooms on the morning of Feb. 26.
Upon entering Tyler Elementary, masked guests conferred with a security guard who checked their temperature and motioned them to sign a document confirming they didn’t exhibit coronavirus-related symptoms.
Classrooms had less than 10 students, each of whom wore a mask and interacted in pairs as a teacher and teacher’s aide guided them in instruction. In cases when a student’s mask fell on the floor, an instructor quickly replaced it.
Classrooms toured by The Informer also had hand sanitizers and other cleaning materials on deck.
“We have to pay very close attention to our safety procedures, and that requires a level of detail and being meticulous,” said Brann, who’s in her second year as principal at Tyler.
“The custodians have increased the frequency with which they clean. As we adopt new policies and procedures, we do not forget the old ones,” such as completing fire drills, she said.
The Reopening Process Revealed
For Tyler Elementary, and other District public schools, Term 3 reopening required meetings between school leadership and the Local School Advisory Team, and the formulation of a detailed reopening plan.
To develop her document, Brann relied on data collected from parents about whether, and under what conditions, students would return to school. This endeavor started in December, during which Tyler, which had been operating CARE classrooms, was reeling from a COVID-19 case.
A letter signed by Brann on Dec. 2 revealed that a participant in an after-school gardening club contracting COVID-19. That incident, along with the more than 20 cases recorded between August and November, compelled Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) to cancel socially distanced outdoor activities at District public schools and high-contact youth and amateur exhibitions.
The question of whether to reopen schools placed DC Public Schools (DCPS) and the Washington Teachers’ Union at odds in the months that followed. In early February, Term 3 reopening went on as planned, even as DCPS continued reporting COVID-19 cases.
Data collected by the D.C. Health Department shows that as of Feb. 26, nearly 180 DCPS students and personnel have contracted the virus.
Balancing Varying Perspectives
Throughout the start of the calendar year, school leaders across the District would continue in their efforts to encourage the registration of students for the 2021-2022 academic year.
By Feb. 1, when in-person learning launched for Term 3, many high school applicants completed the registration process. March 1 counted as the last day for parents to submit applications in the slots designated for students in pre-kindergarten through 8th grade.
Elsa Falkenburger, a Tyler parent who intends to reenroll her child, applauded the manner in which Brann gauged parent, teacher, and student temperament about returning to school, telling The Informer that the school leader executed the ideal balancing act in making key decisions.
“Principal Brann has done a good job of listening to everyone and keeping the focus on keeping children and staff safe. All other decisions have flowed from there,” said Falkenburger, president of Tyler’s Parent-Teacher Association and proponent of fostering healthy student-teacher relationships.
“She put out a survey back in January and listened to parents of younger children who were eager to come back, whereas parents of older students would only send them back if they would be with their specific teacher,” Falkenburger added. “Even though there have been some challenges, at least DC Public Schools gives principals the space to do what’s right for their schools.”