As D.C. Public Schools begins sending small groups of students and teachers back to the classroom, the union representing teachers has concerns about safety and what it calls a lack of transparency by the mayor and schools chancellor.
The District is phasing in 13 schools for very small groups of students for specialized programs like counseling and tutoring.
Next week, Mayor Muriel Bowser will announce her plan to reopen all D.C. public schools for hybrid learning Nov. 9.
Chris Geldart, the director of operations for D.C.’s COVID-19 response says not all public schools will be ready in time.
“Probably not, but we want to make sure that we are doing it in a smart way,” he said.
Geldart is overseeing the process of assessing and preparing each of the district’s 115 public schools to welcome back students.
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“First and foremost for all of us is the safety of anybody that’s going to be in that environment,” Geldart said.
Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union, is concerned about what she calls a breakdown in trust between the Bowser administration and teachers.
“We have not received any detailed plans as to how many students will be allowed to enter each classroom,” Davis said. “What are the schedules for teachers?”
The union submitted a checklist of safety protocols it wants implemented, but so far, the schools chancellor has not committed to including the union’s recommendations.
Davis wants teachers and parents to be part of the teams that inspect the schools before reopening.
“If the ventilation has been repaired in each school, if PPE is available, if social distancing is possible, if masks are available for students and teachers,” she said.
“We need teachers to be able to see, parents to be able to see the evidence that these protocols have been instituted, not rely on the word of the chancellor, but see the evidence themselves that their schools are ready for safe return,” Davis said.
Geldart would not commit to allowing parents or teachers to be part of that process.
“We want to do everything to instill the confidence, so nothing’s off the table,” he said.
The District is prioritizing elementary schools for reopening first.