DC schools chief says ‘primary barrier’ for in-person learning is supply of teachers to teach in classrooms

Parents and officials shared their thoughts and questions during a town hall Wednesday following the announcement that D.C. will not reopen elementary schools next week as originally planned.

“The primary barrier now for in-person learning is having the supply of teachers to teach in those classrooms,” D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said Wednesday.

Ferebee’s statement was in response to a parent who wanted to know why all students are not being considered to return to the classrooms.

The plan would have allowed for up to 75% of elementary school students to eventually return to classrooms starting Nov. 9. It involved students in pre-K through fifth grade being in both traditional classroom environments, as well as what the school system called “CARE” classrooms.

The CARE classrooms — in which students would take virtual classes but from a DCPS classroom attended by a monitor or other school employee — were set to open Nov. 16. The school system is still planning to open CARE classrooms.

The Washington Teachers Union had given the plan a vote of no confidence last week.

Ahead of the virtual town hall, Mayor Muriel Bowser also laid the responsibility at educators’ feet during a news conference.

“All the components for opening schools are in place, except the workforce,” Bowser said.

Bowser maintains she has done everything possible to put a viable plan in place to return students to the classroom. She did not rule out a return to in-person learning once the teachers return to schools but did not speak to specifics.

“We expect once we have our workforce in place to bring students back, students need to be back with teachers hopefully. But if we’re not able to do that, we’ll have some version of in school building learning happening.”

Washington Teachers’ Union President Elizabeth Davis told WTOP earlier this week that she was pleased the more extensive Nov. 9 plan had been canceled.

“It’s not safe to reopen our schools at this time,” Davis said, adding that the school system had failed to provide information on how it is making schools safe. “It’s not enough just to have the mayor and chancellor say, ‘Trust us.’”

WTOP’s Michelle Basch, Nick Iannelli and Jack Moore contributed to this report.

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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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Megan Cloherty

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

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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