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DCPS and Teacher's Union reach tentative deal over safe return to school

“We wanted DC Public Schools to show us evidence that there are going to be standards.”

WASHINGTON — Editor's Note: A previous version of this story erroneously reported the welcome back day as Monday, November 16. It is planned for Wednesday, November 18.

DC’s Teachers Union and DC Public Schools are one step closer to making it possible for kids to have an in-person learning option.

After months of negotiations, the two sides have now reached a tentative deal.

On Wednesday, DCPS will welcome students into 29 elementary schools and 56 CARE classrooms.

DCPS school officials said this is Phase 1 of implementing students back into the classroom. Students will learn remotely in a classroom and will be supervised by a teacher. The program will include a complete health check, face coverings, recess, lunch, afternoon and closing activities

DCPS teacher Carmen Garner devotes his days to teaching and gives up his weekends taking at-risk kids fishing through his foundation, Inner City Anglers. 

But Garner said, although he really wants to see his students in person again, he would have been ready to quit his job rather than go back too soon.

“I have preexisting conditions … so there’s no way I would step foot back into a school until it’s CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Provention) safe,” said Garner

The Inner City Anglers (ICA) represents the fulfillment of my life's purpose. A long time ago, I promised myself that I would always be a mentor, an advocate and a champion for change in the lives of young people.

Washington Teacher’s Union president Elizabeth Davis said many of her members were worried.

“They were concerned. Many of them work in schools that are 65 and 70-years-old, with windows that won’t open, schools that have no central air conditioning. No heating ventilation system that works properly. They had reason to be concerned,” said Davis.

There is now 50 item checklist for safety as part of a new tentative deal with DCPS. David said those protocols will get oversight from teachers and parents.

“We wanted DC public schools to show us evidence that there are going to be standards,” said Davis.

The tentative deal comes after months of back and forth between the union and DC Public Schools. Davis said her main concern was making sure teachers didn’t feel forced to return to in-person teaching.

Davis said the two sides have now met in the middle: DC teachers will be able to opt-out of in-person teaching from now until February. After that, they can opt-out unless there’s a shortage of staff. Davis said there will also be room for negotiation in the new year.

DC Public School Chancellor Lewis Ferebee confirmed the proposal in a statement adding “Our health and safety measures are in place as we look to welcome educators back to the classroom.”

DCPS said 600 elementary students are set to return to classes at 35 schools on Wednesday. District teachers will continue to be virtual, and students will be supervised by other school staff members, according to a statement from DCPS.

Additional CARE Classrooms are set to open December 2, December 9, and January 4. The number of classrooms and grades offered will depend on the school.

Also head back into DC schools are 115 nurses.

Wala Blegay, a staff attorney with the DC Nurses Association, said her union members are still concerned for their safety and lack of clear protocols. Blegay said school nurses were informed last week they will be expected to provide covid testing in addition to their regular duties. 

Blegay said nurses are also concerned about a limited quantity of PPE.

“Will they have the proper PPE by the time the students get into the schools, and what’s going to happen when they start opening up to more students?” Said Blegay.

Davis gave her Washington Teacher’s Union members the weekend to give her feedback about the tentative deal. She has until Tuesday to finalize it.

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