DC schools release COVID-19 measures but parents, staff criticize communication

School starts in D.C. in about a month, but parents and teachers said they don’t have answers to simple questions. The District’s schools chancellor offered what information he has, but he said it could change.

When classes start Aug. 31, Lewis Ferebee said anyone entering a school must wear a mask and maintain as much distance as possible from others. Also, children must receive their required regular vaccinations by their 20th day of enrollment. Schools will report any positive COVID-19 cases to families, as well.

“Is it possible for you all to update your website that either DCPS reopened strong, regular DCPS site to provide information about the pediatric immunizations? Because (you) have, like, eight school-based health centers that can do childhood immunizations, and it was nowhere on your site. But it was on (the) DC Health site. I feel like that’s a small thing that you can give families information about,” Council member Christina Henderson said during the Committee of the Whole meeting.

When it comes to offering families more specific guidance on classroom protocols, Ferebee said it depends on updated COVID-19 metrics expected from DC Health, which is anticipated next week. Ferebee hopes to have it turned around and released to families by early August.

“We’re not intentionally withholding information from families, but again, we’re a very fluid environment. I think you know that the guidelines and the protocols shift as things evolve in the science around COVID changes. And it would be great — it would be ideal — if we could set standards that didn’t change, but that’s not going to happen. And to be clear … it’s likely going to change again,” Ferebee said.

Throughout the hearing, a lack of communication from D.C. Public Schools about what to expect when school starts came up several times.

D.C. State Board of Education member and teacher Frazier O’Leary testified to the Committee of the Whole that DCPS’ lack of communication to staff around vaccine requirements and safety measures in place when they are expected to report for work in one month is inexcusable.

“Why is it the 22nd of July and there’s not a full-scale media blitz about what’s going to happen on the first day of school,” O’Leary asked. He said there was significant confusion from parents ahead of the first day of school last year, and he and doesn’t want to see it repeated.

Helpful Links shared by D.C. Public Schools

Washington Teachers’ Union President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons told council members that updated heating ventilation and air conditioning systems in classrooms and DCPS’ transparency around its status are among the most important issues for its staff.

“We continue to a very layered approach of our HVAC systems, our PPP protocols, sanitizing stations, screening. All will be in place next school year. I think there are more detailed questions that were raised around vaccinations, social distancing and the like that are still under review by DC Health, and we anticipate having more information,” Ferebee said, noting a target of early August to communicate that to parents and staff.

Lyons has also heard concerns from teachers about how to handle simultaneously teaching students who are learning virtually and in person, while addressing their learning loss. She relayed one teacher’s concerns:

“I talked to a third-grade teacher, who was concerned that she might have to teach both in-person and virtually at the same time. She said, ‘Miss Lyons, do you realize that some of these third graders that I’ll be teaching in the fall, the last time they were in school was when they were in first grade. How can I do my best to make up for the loss that they’ve had if I have to do both in-person and simultaneously teach virtually at the same time?'”

Ferebee said he found it disappointing to hear that the Washington Teachers’ Union felt there was poor communication, when DCPS was of the mind that both sides were communicating well.

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.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to clarify earlier information about vaccination requirements. 

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow WTOP on Twitter and Instagram to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2021 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Megan Cloherty

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

Federal News Network Logo

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up