WASHINGTON — A review board ruled DC Public Schools violated the law when leaders announced a school reopening plan without negotiating with the Washington Teachers’ Union.
Still, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee held a town hall meeting Wednesday evening to discuss plans to return 21,000 students to elementary schools.
“If it's so safe, why don't we have in-person meetings to discuss this?” asked Tiffany Brown, ANC 7B02 Commissioner and long-time DCPS teacher. “It can't be safe if the chancellor is sitting in an elementary school in Ward 7 with a mask on! He never takes off his mask to speak. We could barely hear him. If these school buildings are safe, invite the public in!”
Ferebee never responded to parents’ online questions about the ruling by the Public Employees Relations Board that the reopen plan violates the law because the WTU was left out of the safety plan. DCPS did send WUSA9 a statement insisting they’ve held focus groups with teachers and engaged the union “in more than 100 hours of discussions.”
“We will have larger class sizes for our virtual classrooms,” Ferebee said. “If a class is large, we will send resources to help that school.” We did hear the chancellor confirm not only will some students have different teachers as DCPS shifts some staff to in-person instruction, virtual classroom sizes will increase. Teachers tell WUSA9 they’ve been told as many as 40 students in one virtual class.
“How do you just violate our contract, when we have class size limits?” asked Commissioner Brown, “It's just not good for students. It's not good for a learning environment.”
We also learned staff from central office, middle and high schools will be moved to elementary schools to supervise the in-person virtual classes known as CARES classes.
A parent on the phone during Wednesday evening's virtual town hall asked how staff members will be trained because they likely do not have experience working with elementary school students.
“We have already identified professional development and training days,” the chancellor responded.
“There isn't enough staff,” said Brown. “This is seemingly an ill-conceived plan. I just get so upset when the chancellor is not being transparent.”
WUSA9’s Delia Gonçalves spoke with a number of school leaders who said they still don’t have enough staff and safety equipment. DCPS insists they will work with the teachers’ union and DC Health to make sure schools are safe and ready to reopen November 9th.
Parents will be notified October 23 if their child is chosen to receive a seat for live in-person instruction. Students selected for a CARES classroom (supported in-person virtual classes) will receive calls October 30.
In both cases, DCPS said families have two days to respond and can change their mind and withdraw child after November 9. Children will be chosen via a lottery system with priority given to children with special needs, Individualized Education Plans, or those considered high-risk or experiencing homelessness.