By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor

One week before District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) was scheduled to allow eligible elementary students to return to buildings for in-person learning, educators and members of Washington Teachers Union (WTU) took a stance that pushed DCPS Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee to announce via Twitter on Nov. 2 that “DCPS will not open elementary schools on November 9 as planned.”

While DCPS was scheduled to reopen on Nov. 9, last week WTU voted overwhelmingly, during a special membership assembly with more than 93 percent of their members in attendance, that they had, “No confidence in Mayor Murl Bowser, Chancellor Lewis Ferebee and the D.C. Public Schools plan to reopen our schools to in-person learning as it stands on November 9,” according to a press release posted on Nov. 2.

After continued negotiations into the weekend, DCPS teachers and WTU planned a collective action Mental Health Day “solidarity against the District’s reopening plans,” according to the educators’ list of concerns.

The list includes concerns about transparency, building improvement and safety protocols, DCPS accountability and challenges with CARE classrooms.  According to DCPS, CARE Classrooms are, “also known as custodial care, the Canvas Academics and Real Engagement (CARE) classrooms,” which was created to, “provide supervised virtual learning that will provide students with a safe, consistent space to engage in virtual classes while receiving support from caring adults.”

“We have been left in the dark and, with one week remaining, still do not know any our Term 2 teaching assignments,” one bullet on the list of concerns wrote. “The District has not been transparent with families or staff about what in-person or CARE classrooms will look like for our students.”

“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 wrote in his Twitter post.

While WTU expressed pleasure in Mayor Muriel Bowser and Chancellor’s reconsideration of elementary schools opening for in-person learning on Nov. 9, they also demanded more engagement helping execute the reopening plan.  

“Going forward, we want to ensure that Mayor Bowser and Chancellor Ferebee return to the bargaining table with teachers, engage parents in the plan for reopening, to ensure that when it happens, it’s going to protect our students and families,” said WTU President Elizabeth Davis.

“We need a plan that is going to engage parents, teachers and other stakeholders- one that is transparent, one that is going to address issues of equity- and we have not seen that plan, we have not seen the details.  The only thing that parents and teachers have been offered is to agree to trust the chancellor.  But based on the past 10 years in this school district, trust is a problem.  You have to earn trust.  You have to do things that earn the trust of parents,” Davis added.

Parent and early childhood educator, Hilary Daniel, told the AFRO she supports and commends the teachers for their efforts as they navigate life during the pandemic.

“I support the teachers on their strike or mental health day, whatever they prefer to call it.  I feel that the teachers have done an amazing job considering the time they were allotted to put together quality lessons for the students in such an uncertain time,” Daniel said. 

“As a parent, I applaud the efforts made by teachers and parents to work together to ensure children receive as many meaningful learning experiences as possible, while balancing their own work, other personal responsibilities and often multiple children with their homes,” Daniel added.

In her daily press conference, Bowser said she hopes to open CARE classrooms as soon as it is safe and sufficient staffing is secured.

“We will open schools for CARE classrooms when all of the staffing has been secured.  We plan to do that Nov. 16, but we will keep parents informed of that as we secure all of our staffing.  They will likely be non-WTU personnel, so we will continue with CARE classrooms,” Mayor Bowser said.

Bowser also emphasized she will be working with WTU to further structure reopening plans, before completely writing off the entire school year. 

“As far as when teachers are going to return, we will continue to work with the teacher’s union.  What we are unable to do, is to say to parents, and families and kids who need instruction in their school buildings, that we’re going to write off the entire school year.  I’m just not willing to do that.  So we will continue to work with our Teacher’s Union our kids, who’ve lost so much- keep in mind they’ve been out of school since March 19- and we have to give parents and kids an idea of when they can return to school,” she added.

The Mayor took to Twitter to post individual School Building Readiness plans to track progress.

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor