DC teachers concerned schools won’t be ready for class Monday

School starts in D.C. on Monday morning, but teachers say they’re concerned some buildings won’t be ready. D.C.’s city administrator told lawmakers that contracted maintenance crews will work all weekend to make necessary fixes to heating, ventilation and air conditioning units.

After months of preparation, teachers are ready to get back in the classroom, but their union has suggested not every school meets safety standards, reporting issues with HVAC and air circulation in some buildings.

At a training event earlier in the week, physical education teacher Terrence Chabis told WTOP he’s ready to be back in person with students at Seaton Elementary in Northwest D.C.

“Everybody has their concerns about, you know, the delta variant … but as long as you practice the proper safety protocols, you should be fine,” he said.

But the Washington Teachers’ Union said it’s clear from building walk-throughs this week that some health and safety protocols agreed upon in the Memorandum of Understanding with D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) have not been met.

In an email, Union Executive Director Terence Ngwa told WTOP, “There are ongoing issues with HVAC and ventilation systems at some school sites that will require immediate attention before schools resume on Monday.”

One of those schools is Powell Elementary School in Northwest, where Ward 4 Council member Janeese Lewis George visited as part of her tour of schools to assess and prioritize their maintenance.

City Administrator Kevin Donahue acknowledged to council members on Friday that some schools have outstanding repair orders. He relayed to them during a phone call that the Department of General Services has staff working 24-7 to “resolve as many work orders as possible.” However, Donahue could not give an updated count of how many work orders needed to be addressed.

“Some classrooms may have spot coolers and/or window air conditioning units added to help alleviate pressure on a school’s primary cooling system during extreme summer heat,” said Enrique Gutierrez with DCPS. “This temporary HVAC solution does not impact our enhanced filtration and ventilation measures at our DCPS facilities.”

Megan Cloherty

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

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