With the rise in COVID cases, the D.C. CORE Washington Teachers Union created a petition with demands for DCPS to safely reopen schools after the winter break. (Courtesy Photo)

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. and Digital Editor
mgreen@afro.com

COVID-19 numbers are steadily rising in the District of Columbia, causing concern for educators, school staff and parents whose students are required to participate in in-person learning despite growing coronavirus cases.  Between Dec. 2 to Dec. 26, more than nine-thousand District residents newly tested positive for the COVID-19 virus; however D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and DCPS Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee have not announced that they are closing schools for in-person instruction.  Now the D.C. Caucus of Rank and File Educators (D.C. CORE) Washington Teachers Union (WTU) is taking action.   

While students and staff will be required to show negative at-home rapid test results between Monday Jan. 3 and Tuesday Jan. 4, closing in-person school those days, D.C. leadership has not announced a plan in the case schools must return to virtual learning.

The D.C. CORE WTU drafted a petition offering demands allowing for a safe return to in-person instruction in January.  “DCPS must follow PG County and prepare for virtual instruction for the first few weeks to protect our staff and students. Sign our petition,” WTU tweeted before sharing the petition link and a list of their demands. 

The D.C. CORE demands include:  1. “DCPS must require a negative test result from all staff and students to return.” 2. “Public, clear, transparent and available metrics for when our school will provide virtual instruction.” 3. “Restore paid COVID lead.”

With the first demand of negative test results,  the D.C. CORE has requested that the test results should be within three days of the first day of in-person learning and should be made available on site for all those who were unable to take a test.  For the second demand of metrics transparency, the organization is requesting that the D.C. Community Spread Seven-day Average must be below 200 new cases to return to in-person instruction.  The third demand, advocating to bring back paid COVID leave, asks that educators who need to use leave because of COVID-19 should be compensated without it affecting their annual leave and that annual leave be restored to teachers who have already had to use it due to coronavirus in the past.

In addition, the petition asks for an increase of COVID-19 safety measures and a plan to move to virtual when necessary. The COVID-19 safety precaution has eight sub-demands including: 1. Offering fitted N95/ K95s and Kf94s;  2. Administering weekly PCR antigen tests for all staff and students, as well as having PCR tests available for pupils, employees and their families, a nasal swab option on site and on-demand rapid tests available for symptomatic staff and students; 3. Having a reasonable virtual option in place for students and families; 4. Building in an asynchronous day into the schedule for deep cleaning of school buildings; 5. Living up to DCPS’ Promises on COVID Coordinators by ensuring that all schools are assigned COVID Coordinators who are present in schools when DCPS reopens to assist with high rates of Omicron; 6. Ensuring that infections are reported to the school community within 24 hours of notification; 7. Offering clarity and increased safety protocols for Elementary Specials Teachers, who see all students weekly, including DCPS planning for performing arts courses; and finally 8.  Updating the definition of Close Contact to include vaccinated individuals considering the Omicron variant’s high infection rate among the vaccinated and boosted.

Many educators, parents and District residents weighed in on the demands to offer support or add to the list of things necessary to safely reopen schools.

“I work for DCPS and it’s terrible, the cases are getting out of control.  They’re not even following the proper procedures for staff vaccinations.  At my school, I feel like we’re sitting ducks just waiting for the worst to happen,” one DCPS staff member tweeted.

“We also need something about vaccination status.  There is nothing stopping students who are unvaccinated from lying about their status to avoid quarantines,” another local educator commented in reply to the D.C. CORE demands.

“Please sign this petition to help D.C. kids safe since and showed us last week they do not see this as part of their responsibility, and actually did the opposite and knowingly put the kids directly in harm’s way,” another person tweeted.

“So important to prevent a catastrophe waiting to happen in D.C. Public Schools in January.  Delta is a dance party compared to Omicron. #help #sos,” a Twitter account by the name of “A worried parent,” retweeted.

One public school teacher retweeted the petition writing, “Please, if you care about the health and safety of D.C.’s children, sign this petition.  The Mayor and Chancellor clearly don’t care, so it’s up to us to make them care.”

There were others completely against D.C. CORE’s desire to hold in-person instruction until safety measures are met.

“Did I fall down hit my head?  Is it March 2020?  It’s deeply disturbing that any teacher would sign on to continued virtual learning,” one social media user wrote.

As of press time, the petition had garnered 680 signatures.

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Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor