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DCPS principal says reopening plan puts vulnerable students at risk

Counselors are being reassigned to supervise elementary students for their in-person virtual classes when schools reopen.

WASHINGTON — Principals from several of D.C.'s middle and high schools were told last week that their staff members were being reassigned to supervise elementary students in their in-person virtual classrooms when schools begin reopening Nov. 9.

For DCPS parent Huleana Colson, the decision is deeply personal. 

“Last year when my son was murdered,” she said crying, “Mr. Kennedy told me that they [counselors] were going to be ready for them [her other children] when they came back.”  

Colson’s 25-year-old son Delante was murdered outside their home last August. She said counselors at Cardozo Education Campus saved her two other children. 

“They were just there for anything that I needed," her 9th-grade daughter Laila said. "Like when I needed a shoulder to cry on.”  

But those counselors are among the 17 staff members who are being pulled from Cardozo High School.

“With the crime rate as high as high as it is, how many other families do you think has dealt with losing loved ones through the pandemic?” Colson asked. "We need those counselors at our school.”

According to a letter from Cardozo's principal, DCPS is reassigning the staffers to help supervise elementary school classes. 

“It's kind of painful to know that they're trying to prioritize one over the other,” Cardozo senior and student leader Britany Juarez said.  

Principal Arthur Mola said he wrote his letter to families “from a place of pain and hope.” He’s calling on the community to help stop the transfer that he said would dismantle the student support center, leaving their children who need emotional, educational, or tech help at risk.

“You believe that those resources were always going to be there,” Juarez said. “As an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) student, it's kind of hard to get that extra support through virtual because I'm more of a hands-on and visual person.”

WUSA9’s Delia Gonçalves asked DCPS specific questions about schools affected and the number of staff members needed. DCPS sent this statement instead: 

"In order to meet our priority of providing a safe and supportive in-person learning environment for our youngest learners and those farthest from opportunity, we have called upon the entire DCPS community to be part of our term 2 learning models. DCPS engaged our secondary Principals on this topic last week, and we are in the process of determining staffing arrangements for CARE classrooms. We are reviewing the feedback we’ve received and will follow up with our school leaders on next steps." 

DCPS said social workers and psychologists will not be reassigned to elementary schools. 

“Actions speak louder than words,” Colson said. "It seems like their education is more valuable and more important than the junior high and senior high and that unfair.”

Several school leaders also said employees from other D.C. agencies are being asked to supervise these in-person virtual classes, known as CARES classrooms. DCPS confirmed and said teachers are not necessary in the CARES classes and all the staff assigned to supervise those classes will be trained in COVID-19 protocol and mandated reporter training.

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