D.C. Public Schools released more information Thursday on how some elementary students will return to schools soon, as data indicates students began the school year less prepared than usual.
DCPS saw a 22 percentage point reduction in kindergarteners meeting or exceeding benchmarks at the start of this school year, in comparison to previous years. There also was a 9 percentage point reduction in young students meeting or exceeding literacy benchmarks.
Chancellor Lewis Ferebee attributed these lags to the effects of virtual learning. At a news conference Thursday, he cited an “urgent mission” to meet students’ needs after schools closed in March.
Elementary school families will receive offers starting Friday, Oct. 23 to return their students to in-person learning in small groups, with a teacher. Starting Friday, Oct. 30, families will start to receive offers for Canvas Academics and Real Engagement (CARE) classrooms. These groups will be taught by a teacher working remotely and supervised by an adult who could be a high school or administrative staff member.
Priority for either of the in-person learning options will be given to students who are experiencing homelessness, have special education needs, are at risk or are learning English.
Families have the option to continue virtual learning.
"Working at home is not a working solution for every student and every family," Ferebee said.
Offers for seats will go out by email, followed by a phone call.
If you are offered an in-person classroom seat, act fast, Ferebee said. Families have two school days from the point of contact to confirm that they want their seat. If you don’t respond within that timeframe, your student will lose their offer and continue with virtual learning.
Ferebee also announced that on-site rapid COVID-19 testing will be available in schools for anyone with symptoms. At public testing sites, DCPS staff members who work in person will get priority.
The chancellor also addressed the Washington Teachers’ Union, which continues to protest over health and safety concerns related to returning to classrooms.
“We’re still optimistic that we will reach a common ground,” Ferebee said.
The Public Employee Relations Board ruled Tuesday that D.C. did not bargain in good faith with the union over their concerns.
Ahead of the Nov. 9 start date, the union and DCPS were back at the negotiating table Thursday to address a number of issues. Among the unions demands: assurances air quality is safe and standards are transparent, paid time off for teachers exposed to COVID-19 at work, free coronavirus testing for teachers and staff, and input from communities on whether their campus is safe to reopen.
"We are negotiating in good faith," Ferebee said at Thursday's news conference. "We remain committed to this dialogue."
"While I do believe that we can, and must, return to school safely, the plan presented by the mayor lacks the testing and contact tracing measures that are necessary for an urban school district with our level of community spread," Garrison Elementary School teacher Greta Etherton told the school board at a meeting Wednesday night.
"I think it is deplorable that teachers have to fight so hard to get so little respect at the bargaining table," said music teacher David Ifill, who has severe asthma.
"We are in unprecedented times," Mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday. "Nobody feels 100% about anything. We are dealing with a situation we have never dealt with before. I'm confident we have things in place to make our buildings safe."
Stacy Beck, a mother of three students, told the board the plan falls short, disrupting all students but benefitting only a few.
"Watching the effect of virtual learning on my kids is really heartbreaking, but the notion that the people who are opposed to this plan don't want to send their kids back to school is wrong," she said.
"We all have a job to do here," Bowser said. "The chancellor, union, teachers, I think we are all focused on the same thing: How do we best serve students?"