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'Make a choice between their health and keeping a job' | DCPS teachers asked to commit to in-person work

DCPS resumes August 31st with a hybrid model of virtual and in-class instruction.

WASHINGTON — Some DC Public School teachers are concerned about a letter they received from DCPS that stated they must sign a commitment to return to in-person work.

Mayor Bowser said public schools will resume August 31 as a hybrid model of virtual learning and in-class instruction. But some teachers said the system is moving too quickly to return to the classroom without offering alternatives that would keep them safe. 

The letter is due July 10, but the Washington Teachers Union told teachers to hold off because they still had questions.  

"I was disappointed to learn that DCPS has sent teachers 'Return to Work Guidance,' prior to providing a fully developed plan for how we safely and effectively resume instruction in the fall," WTU President Elizabeth Davis said in a statement. "The WTU received these guidelines hours before they were released to the teachers and did not have an opportunity to provide meaningful feedback to the proposal. Washington’s Teachers fully support efforts to return to in-person learning, but it must be done in a manner that protects the health of our teachers, students and communities." 

RELATED: DC public schools will start, online or in-person, August 31

The five-page letter from DCPS outlines what school will look like in the fall including:

  • Disposable masks provided each day
  • Daily health screenings
  • No visitors
  • Enhanced cleaning
  • Social distance guidelines

“I personally felt like it was too early for me to make a firm decision as to whether or not I'd be comfortable teaching in person,” Carolyn Fado, who teaches at Columbia Heights Education Campus, said.

The letter asks teachers to commit to returning to the classroom and states “if the employee has a serious health condition or is caring for an individual with a serious health condition” they are eligible for family medical leave, disability, or paid sick leave.  

“I think there should be an option for some students and staff to be able to work completely virtually,” Fado said, “I also think that there’s a possibility that teachers or other staff would come to school, even if there's been a chance that they've been exposed, because if you're on leave, you're not making the full salary.”

The teachers’ union wants DCPS to rescind the letter and come to the table for “meaningful dialogue.”  

“It’s no fair because teachers have a feeling as if they have to make a choice between their safety and health and keeping a job,” WTU President Liz Davis said. "The Chancellor and I met last Friday. We agreed that we would work together on messaging to teachers, but also looking at the recommendations that came from teachers from the WTU Reopen Task Force. That did not happen.”

Davis is calling on DCPS to rescind the “Return to Work Guidance” and continue conversations with teachers and staff about "the safe resumption of in-person learning." The WTU also wants the full results of parent, student and teacher survey results released before any further plans are made to return to school. 

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As for Fado, she wants every student to have a DCPS-issued laptop and guidance for educators on this new way of teaching if the science indicates going back to the classroom is safe.  

“Instructional strategies are going to have to change when we go in person," she said. "A lot of teaching involves going up to students and discreetly checking in with them. Managing a classroom environment with six feet of distance, that's very challenging.”  

DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee issued the following statement: 

DCPS is working to ensure that we have a safe and successful start to the next school year for our students and staff. Last month, DCPS gathered feedback from our teachers, students, and staff through surveys and regularly engaged the Washington Teachers’ Union around the preferences and supports needed to safely reopen in the fall. To contribute to our robust planning efforts, we’ve issued preliminary guidance and requested additional input from the DCPS workforce, including central office staff and educators. As we move forward with planning for a strong start to the school year, DCPS will continue to gather critical feedback from our entire community and we look forward to sharing more details as soon as they are available.

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