DC educators discuss getting hesitant families to choose in-person learning

D.C. educators and school leaders are discussing how they plan to get more students to return to in-person learning, and they said it starts with building trust.

Chancellor Lewis Ferebee remarked that it is not just one, but a number of challenges at play including — vaccine hesitation and childcare — that has families deciding it’s not yet time to return their child to school

“We know that there are disparities in health outcomes across our communities and in our city. And oftentimes, they’re along socio-economic lines. And we also know that the family dynamics are different. You know, we have families who are working from home, we have families now that are returning back to work, we have older siblings that are caring for younger siblings. And so each family situation is different. And that drives their interest right now in in-person learning, or if they would like to stay remote,” Ferebee said.

Complicating things is a hesitance in lower-income communities to accept the vaccine. Let alone the fear around getting their teenagers vaccinated if they are eligible.

“So in-person learning looks different across the district. And oftentimes, the way that’s being implemented may influence the type of interests that families having in-person learning right now,” Ferebee said.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said she wants every child back in school in-person by Aug. 30. But getting there will take work and time, according to educators.

“Most of the students who have returned are from the more affluent neighborhoods. But with working together … we can ensure that everyone comes back in August,” said Washington Teacher’s Union President Jaqueline Pogue Lyons.

She feels the school community faces the challenge of garnering the trust of parents and teachers to return to in-person learning.

“So we have to give them the support that they need. So that they feel comfortable and safe and coming back into the schools — and that’s gonna take time,” Pogue Lyons said.

American Teacher’s Union president Randi Weingarten agreed.

“You don’t have to have an either-or. It’s either in-person or safe. What this school visit shows is that with the resources and the relationships, we can do what every educator wants to do, and every family needs to have, which is school as a place, not just school as a thought,” Weingarten said after touring McKinley Tech High School in Northeast with Ferebee, Pogue Lyons and others.

“Since January, we have been discussing methods of protocols that would be put in place so that students, teachers, faculty, anyone who enters the facility would be safe. This is a mantra that we have stood in solidarity with the Washington Teachers Union … so we want to say that this is a community effort,” said Sherice Muhammad, the local school advisory team chair at McKinley High School.

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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.

Megan Cloherty

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

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