WASHINGTON — D.C. Public Schools will no longer open select elementary schools for in-person learning on Nov. 9 and will continue all-virtual learning for students grades Pre-K through 12, DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said Monday.
The school system will instead adjust their reopening timeline after hearing the feedback from their school community on reopening plans.
This comes after the Washington Teachers Union urged its members to take a mental health day or call out sick on Monday in protest of the DCPS school reopening plan.
“When teachers are pressed up against a wall, they’re going to do whatever they have to protect themselves and their families,” Washington Teachers’ Union President Liz Davis said.
The teachers' union believes DCPS broke the law when leaders announced on Oct. 26 its school reopening plan without negotiating with the union.
"We commit to supporting our students, families, teachers, and staff in our urgent mission to safely reopen schools. We have heard feedback from many in our community about #ReopenStrong plans, and we will use this moment to adjust our timeline and staffing plans for reopening," Ferebee said in a letter to the DCPS school community.
Safety walkthroughs at DCPS facilities will continue as planned with elementary school principals, Ferebee said. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday that promised safety upgrades are on track.
“We have made incredible improvements to our buildings," she said. "Parents and teachers are walking through the buildings in scheduled walkthroughs. I’m very proud to say the promises we made about our buildings, we will deliver on, on the timeline we said we would deliver them. They will be perfectly ready on Nov. 9."
But parent leaders from Capitol Hill Montessori at Meyers were not satisfied with their Friday walkthrough. A document obtained by WUSA9 shows they reported desks not properly spaced, isolation rooms not set up for symptomatic students, no hot water, and said they received no data from classroom HEPA filters. The parents also wrote DC Councilmembers that “six exhaust fans on the roof of the building need to be replaced.”
“I understand the importance of going back to the classroom, and my kid really wants to do that, but we don’t want to go until we know it’s safe,” Cedrick Hendricks, the chair of the Local School Advisory Team (LSAT) at School Without Walls at Francis Stevens, said.
Hendricks pointed to pictures of black mold and disrepair at the school back in March as causes for concern. His school's planned walkthrough is Thursday and he is skeptical the repairs were made.
“The agency that has left this to happen -- and you can tell that stuff didn’t happen overnight -- is the agency we’re supposed to rely on to make it right all of a sudden,” he said. “So we don’t have much confidence, we don’t have much trust.”
Ferebee said as soon as staffing plans are confirmed, the school system will move forward with reopening CARE classrooms. Parents who've accepted an in-person learning seat will be contacted on having the option to join a CARE classroom first.
Bowser said WTU members will not be assigned to monitor CARE classrooms, but Davis raised concerns, as school leaders still don’t know who will supervise those classrooms.
“Do we really want to take the risk of putting individuals in a classroom with students they’ve never taught, they don’t know, they don’t have a relationship with to supervise them?” Davis asked. “I don’t think so.”
But Bowser said parents and students deserve answers about their return timeline.
“We have to be able to give parents and kids an idea as to when they’ll be going back to school,” Bowser said.
“Teachers will go back when it’s safe,” responded Davis.
Davis said there are still unanswered questions and details on the learning plan that need to be hammered out. WTU and DCPS will resume negotiations Thursday.