Some Washington, D.C. elementary students were back in their classrooms this week for the first time since March 13, but without their teachers.
Mayor Muriel Bowser had hoped to have more students and teachers back this month, but after talks with the teachers' union broke down, D.C. Public Schools were only able to open hybrid classrooms, in which small groups of students go to their classroom but still learn virtually.
The classrooms are monitored by staff, but the teachers and other students are working and learning from home.
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For Elijah Lee, a third grader at Savoy Elementary School in Southeast D.C., it was a chance to see his friends.
"I really love it," Elijah said. "And I like the class, because school is one of my favorite things."
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School officials reported more than 400 elementary school students had enrolled for the hybrid in-classroom learning, but so far only about half have shown up.
"We have an attendance rate right now about 50 percent," said DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee. "We did have families that had to complete their vaccinations before students could be back on campus, so we anticipate that number will continue to rise."
Lisa Rosado, principal of Savoy Elementary, points to one group of staff she thinks deserves much of the credit for the schools being open: the custodial staff who implemented and oversee all the COVID-19 safety protocols.
"They have really done an amazing job with helping prepare this building," Rosado said. "They take much pride in the work they're doing. They worked day and night to ensure that there all the safety protocols put into place."
We asked the chancellor what will happen if the COVID-19 numbers continue to increase and the mayor orders new restrictions.
"I anticipate if there are any dial-backs or any restrictions, it may not apply first to schools," Ferebee said.
As for Elijah Lee, he hopes the schools stay open and more of his friends join him.
"I like to come to school, because it's best for me so I can learn better," Elijah said.
D.C. Public Schools plans to open more classrooms in phases starting in December, and they anticipate the number of students going to the in-person classrooms will increase each day.