D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) will be reopening next month, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced in a COVID-19 situational update on Monday, Oct. 5.
According to Chancellor of DCPS Dr. Lewis Ferebee, limited in-person instruction will be offered to elementary grades pre-k through fifth in Term 2, beginning on Nov. 9. Grades sixth through 12th will be welcomed back in Term 3, beginning in January at the earliest.
Ferebee’s announcement came amid a gradual reopening of schools in D.C. On Sept. 28, 13 out of 115 schools in the DCPS system started bringing back small groups of students to campus for in-person learning for the first time since schools closed their doors abruptly in March.
DCPS has the capacity to seat 21,000 students: 7,000 will be welcomed back on campuses for small group, in-person instruction five days a week, while another 14,000 students will return five days a week on a staggered timeline for Canvas Academics and Real Engagement classrooms, where a staff member will assist them with all-virtual learning. Students will always have the option to continue learning virtually from home.
Seats for the in-person instruction will be offered on a lottery basis. However, Ferebee said that elementary students with the “highest needs,” including students experiencing homelessness, students receiving special education, students who are English learners, and students designated as high-risk, will be given preference in the process.
A survey on participation in in-person instruction was released to teachers earlier this month. To participate, they had to respond by Oct. 6. Like students, teachers will not be forced to return to campuses, but DCPS has suggested in a letter in July that teachers unwilling to appear in person should file for sick leave.
Reception to Bowser’s announcement has been mixed. While the decision to reopen schools has been met with relief among some parents and students, some teachers have expressed reservations. Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, lamented the lack of safety guidelines for in-person instruction. “We are not obstructing a return to teaching,” she said in response to the survey. “We want answers on how it is going to be done safely.” She was joined by around two dozen teachers and parents in a demonstration outside Bowser’s house on Oct. 3.
Bowser has made it clear that she has wanted to bring small groups of students back into schools since early September. “I think DCPS can do it, and I think DCPS should do it,” she said in response to a reporter asking about the prospects of the reopening of schools. “I don’t think we have any health data to suggest that we can’t do small groups.”