Ahead of Monday reopening, arbiter will rule on breach-of-contract claim against DC schools

D.C. Public Schools expects 8,000 kids to return to in-person learning on Monday, and is challenging concerns from the Washington Teachers’ Union that the buildings haven’t met safety metrics.

Washington Teachers’ Union President Elizabeth Davis said she’s frustrated for parents and staff who don’t trust DCPS after nine months of negotiations to go back to school safely.

After a 12-hour hearing on Thursday, Davis said an arbitrator would rule sometime Saturday on whether DCPS has breached its contract with the union.

The issue over school safety metrics, Davis said, goes to transparency: During the walk-through of school buildings to ensure safety repairs had been made, parents and teachers were not included in the process, she said.

When they were given checklists and went through the buildings themselves, they noted problems such as toilets that would not flush and windows that wouldn’t open. But the DCPS website showed those repairs had been made, Davis said.

“Safety does not appear to be a priority. The priority seems to be the pressure to show that we have kids back in school in person,” she said.

Schools Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee called the safety questions meritless.

“We have spent many months and millions of dollars to prepare. We know our students are ready; we know our buildings are ready, and we know our staff is ready, and efforts to reopen schools on Monday will continue as planned,” he said in a statement.

“I think the DCPS team wanted to give the impression that all we’re interested in is shutting down the system,” Davis said. “That is not the case. The case is, we want — and of course, our message has always consistently been that we want — the families to send their kids back, and we want teachers and school workers to go back when it’s safe to do so,” Davis told WTOP.

Davis said it would also make sense for teachers and schools staff who just became eligible to receive their first round of COVID-19 vaccinations to get their second dose before returning.

“It doesn’t seem like a big ask. Why don’t you just allow them to get the first and second dose, and then let them go in?” Davis said.

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Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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