DC schools chancellor: ‘We don’t actually know what the plans will be’

Admitting that no final decision has been made regarding how the first day of school will be conducted, the head of D.C. Public Schools hosted an online discussion about the possible plans in place to provide in-person instruction.

Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee said the school system is still waiting for DC Health to determine if it is feasible to offer a hybrid of brick-and-mortar classroom sessions and virtual learning.

“There’s fatigue with learning at home, and families are wanting to have the ability to have in-person instruction,” Ferebee said. “But we’ve also heard from families that’ve asked us to prioritize safety and to only have in-person instruction when we know we can ensure safety for students and staff.”

The “Reopen Strong” forum, which answered questions posted by online viewers, went further in depth into issues surrounding safety, maximizing learning and promoting equity to resources and information.

DCPS Community and Engagement Officer Shanita Burney went through a chart of feedback and input from more than 17,000 families, students and staff members about how to reopen.

The graphic showed students and families preferred the schedule options that have students attending school each week.

School-based staff preferred students attend two consecutive days of in-person classes per week, with a second choice leaning toward alternate weeks.

Burney said the highest interest in virtual-only is among older students and those from Wards 7 and 8.

A quarter or more of staff and families also reported that they are undecided about returning to school in person.

There were questions about maintaining the sanitary conditions of schools if a hybrid learning model is implemented.

DCPS Operations chief Patrick Davis said all schools would close each Wednesday for deep cleaning.

“We’ve got really strong and good custodial teams that will lead the cleaning,” Davis said. “If additional cleaning crews are needed, which at this point we don’t think is necessary, but if additional crews are needed, we have the ability to bring in contracted cleaners.”

If in-person learning were to take place, the school system would require all students and staff to wear face coverings in school buildings.

Davis said masks will be provided daily to students upon entry outside each building, along with hand sanitizing before distribution.

Corie Colgan, DCPS Officer of Teaching and Learning, said the feasibility of virtual instruction that would include 3- and 4-year-olds in prekindergarten is being explored.

Colgan also said that they are looking at potential hybrid schedules for special needs students who might be able to attend school at least two days a week in person.

There were also questions about addressing future technical issues with virtual instruction.

Colin Taylor, who is in charge of DCPS data systems and strategy, said the system plans to provide devices to kids who need them at home, live training and direct technical support.

Taylor said that direct support would allow families to contact someone by phone. The plan also involves increased tech support for schools and staff.

DCPS also released a survey to get a feel for the needs of students and families, Taylor said.

Ferebee then took several questions at the end of the forum. One concerned the possibility of outdoor instruction.

“We are not opposed to outdoor instruction. In fact, we want to maximize the learning spaces on our campuses,” Ferebee said.

Another question revolved around school protocol if a student is sick or showing symptoms of COVID-19.

“If there’s an infection or a child is sick, we would communicate with families directly in that cohort. Then we would also have schoolwide communications, where appropriate, as well.”

Last week, D.C. was expected to formally roll out and confirm the plan for the coming school year, but Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a delay until July 31 because of “concerning” coronavirus data.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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