Arbitrator clears way for DC to resume in-person learning despite union concern

Before snowfall prompted D.C. schools to temporarily return to virtual learning Monday, an arbitrator ruled that most schools could resume in-person learning this week.

An arbitrator had been brought in to hear the Washington Teacher’s Union’s arguments that the school system failed to meet some of the union’s requests to safely reopen schools. After listening to hours of testimony on both sides, the arbitrator decided that most D.C. schools are cleared to open.

The conflict stemmed from a union complaint alleging the school system failed to provide adequate information about the safety and statuses of school buildings before reopening.

In a response to the finding, school system Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said D.C. looks forward to reopening schools.

“The arbitrator found no evidence of any health or safety violations across any DC Public Schools facilities, which affirms DCPS has followed local and national school reopening guidance and has been transparent with our community through the reopening planning process.

We were ready to reopen before the Washington Teachers’ Union made this last-minute failed attempt to delay the expansion of in-person learning. The science is clear. Schools are safe, and we know the best place for students to learn is in the classroom,” the statement said.

However, not all schools will be permitted to reopen for in-person learning. In one part of the decision, the opening of two schools will only be allowed if certain remedies are met.

For Coolidge High and Watkins Elementary, in-person learning will resume when another walk-through takes place.

“Due to the deficiencies the record shows regarding how the walk-throughs at Coolidge High School and Watkins Elementary School were conducted, DCPS is ordered to conduct additional walk-throughs at these two schools, in a manner that complies with paragraph 8 of the MOA, as soon as possible but no later than seven calendar days from the date of this decision.

These schools shall not open pending the completion of these walk-throughs and remediation of any items noted as incomplete on the School Readiness Checklist,” the arbitrator’s findings said.

WTOP has contacted D.C. schools for comment on the matter.

About 8,000 students across all grade levels are expected to return to class in the District on Feb. 1.

That means D.C. schools will start Term 3 this week as planned, including welcoming back thousands of students and teachers to the classroom. Some students will only be in class one day per week, while others will attend every day.

To support those students, approximately 1,800 teachers and nearly 2,000 support staff members have been told to report to work.

Last week, the union said it was keeping open the option of filing an injunction to stop schools from opening, depending on what happened with the arbitration hearing.

WTOP contacted the Washington Teacher’s Union for comment on the arbitrator’s decision.

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Michelle Murillo

Michelle Murillo has been a part of the WTOP family since 2014. She started her career in Central Florida before working in radio in New York City and Philadelphia.

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