District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) created updated reopening plans under the CDC’s new guidance for K-12 schools. (Courtesy Photo)

By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

This week, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Lewis Ferebee responded to scores of angry parents who left a recent Town hall event with their questions unanswered.  

On March 29, Ferebee issued posted guidelines for the DCPS community on new health and safety measures that will be implemented throughout the system starting April 19 through June 24, the school’s fourth quarter. 

The DCPS Plan for the fourth and final quarter of the school year was written in response to new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance to K-12 schools across the nation. New CDC guidance reduced the distance between students in classrooms to three feet apart.  Previously the CDC recommended a six-foot distance between desks and in-school interactions. 

Starting April 19 through the end of the 2021 school year, social distancing in DCPS classrooms for in-person learning will transition to three feet.  Schools may start spring sports programs, and band, choir and theatre rehearsals may resume provided that 10 feet distances are maintained between participants, according to the new guidance now posted on DCPS’ #ReopenStrong website. 

“Depending on the size of a school building’s classrooms, cohorts could range from their current size to around 24 students,” Ferebee said in his letter to the school community.  

Decisions about how many students can be accommodated in specific schools and the specific regimen for schools has been handled at the community level through Reopening Community Corps, according to Corie Cogan, DCPS Chief of Teaching and Learning.

DCPS will continue to operate with both in-person and at-home learning components. Ferebee said he anticipates a full return to in-person instruction for the start of the 2021-2022 school year.  

“We have a Reopening Corps” set up in each school community,” Cogan said 

“School leadership works with staff, parents and community members to design the learning plan that is best for each school,” she added. 

The Community Corps are now busy reviewing the detailed plans for what the fourth quarter will look like for DCPS’ 51,000 students. More in-person learning opportunities will be available with decisions being made at the neighborhood school level. The Reopening Corps will also handle the neighborhood transitions to full in-person learning for Fall 2021. 

Parents in Wards 7 and 8 attending the recent virtual DCPS town hall wanted to know how the schools would navigate reopening and ensure students would have all the services they need while proposed budget cuts are on the table for the coming year. 

“Why is DCPS making major cuts to ESL teachers including 7 teachers at my neighborhood schools? How are parents going to express concerns when stuff like this is English-only,” asked Evan Yates

“Why is DCPS considering cutting staff and teachers? Schools in Wards 7 and 8 need more teachers and personnel to support mental well-being of students and teachers, let alone educating,” wrote another participant.

DCPS could lose up to 90 teaching positions in fiscal year 2022, including up to 57 teachers who work with English language learners. 

Ferebee countered that the school system plans to invest nearly $80 million in federal stimulus money to help schools recover from the pandemic, including $33 million on academic and socio-emotional support for students.

However, the City does not allow stimulus funds to be used to pay for school staff positions and parents are worried that positions will be cut as students need them most to return safely to school.

A group called The Action Network has organized a petition signed by close to 1,000 people requesting DCPS to maintain current staffing for the 2021-2022 school year and increase funding in schools most impacted by the pandemic.