DC teachers want school safety walk-throughs, threaten strike

On the first day back to school for about 9,000 D.C. Public Schools students, the Washington Teachers’ Union said some buildings did not meet the safety fixes the District agreed to make — and now teachers are threatening to strike.

Union President Elizabeth Davis said that because teachers found some necessary changes were not made upon their return, they are now questioning which other metrics were not addressed.

“Teachers want to go back to in-school learning when they are assured that the buildings are safe,” Davis said.

In a statement to WTOP, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said that “buildings are safe and ready for students and staff.”

The union wants Ferebee and Mayor Muriel Bowser to agree to host walk-throughs of each school building with parents, teachers and other stakeholders, so everyone can feel they are proceeding safely with in-person learning.

If not, Davis said, they’ll have no choice but to poll members on whether they want to take a vote to strike.

Ahead of her statement to the press on Tuesday, D.C. attorneys filed an emergency temporary restraining order with D.C. Superior Court that would prevent a work stoppage.

“Delaying safe, in-person learning with an illegal work stoppage will push students even further behind,” the District’s assistant attorneys general wrote in a memo attached to the motion.

A vote from teachers could take place later this week to authorize the union’s executive board to call for a strike, according to the union.

Last week, an independent arbitrator found that two DCPS schools, Coolidge High and Watkins Elementary, should remain closed as they did not meet the safety metrics laid out in the memorandum of agreement that both DCPS and union representatives signed.

The union cited this as a reason why it believes there are other safety violations and unhealthy conditions in schools. But the schools chancellor said the arbitrator’s decision “noted only procedural gaps” related to walk-throughs.

And Ferebee said the union “would be letting down” students if they decided to strike.

“DCPS is well within its management rights under District law, as well as our agreed-upon memorandum of agreement with the WTU, to require teachers to return to in-person work,” Ferebee said.

“In general, employees who participate in a strike or work stoppage in the District could be subject to discipline.”

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Megan Cloherty

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

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