Local Education

What you need to know about DC public schools this year

Washington Post reporters answer questions to help parents and guardians navigate the pandemic school year.

What kind of learning are the schools offering: in-person, fully remote or hybrid?

D.C. Public Schools — which educates 52,000 students, just over half of the city’s public school students — will be all-virtual until at least the end of the first quarter, Nov. 6. The District’s more than 60 charter school operators are allowed to make their own decisions about how will they will operate. However, most charter schools — including the two largest charter networks, KIPP DC and Friendship — will be following the school system’s lead and going all-virtual. A few smaller charter schools say they will have some in-person learning components. The D.C. Public Charter School Board is maintaining an updated list of each charter school’s plans. It can be found here.

Are there plans for in-person learning, possibly with a hybrid approach, in the future?

D.C. leaders have said that there is no replacement for in-person teaching and that they want to get students back in classrooms as soon as possible. For now, though, it’s all virtual through Nov. 6. School leaders said they will look at health data to determine whether they should go to a formal hybrid model, all in-person or all-virtual for the second quarter.

What have the schools done to provide devices to students?

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee has vowed to provide a device and Internet access to every student in need. Families should fill out a school system online survey or call their schools if they need technology help. About 32,000 people responded to the survey so far, with about 60 percent indicating that they need a device.

Most charter schools say they are providing technology to their students, but individual schools have different distribution plans.

How strong an Internet connection is needed to take part in remote learning?

There will be more real-time, live classes in the fall than there were in the spring. In the spring, many parents said that using a phone as a WiFi hotspot was inadequate for online courses or even to send assignments to parents. The school system says it will provide families in need hotspots or computers with built-in Internet connections.

How do parents or students get support if they have technology issues?

Parents and students should call the Family Call Center at 202-442-5885 for technical support if they are having trouble with log-ins, accessing learning platforms or a DCPS-issued device.

What is the length of the remote school day?

The school system has established a minimum amount of real time instruction each student should receive based on grade-level and subject area. However, daily start and end times for the school day may vary by individual campuses.

Are exceptions to all-virtual learning being made for students in special education or for other students to come to campus in small groups?

For now, all traditional public school students must learn remotely. The chancellor and mayor have said they hope to get students in classrooms as soon as possible. They suggested that a phased-in approach to reopening schools is possible. They have said they want to prioritize the return of certain students, including special education students. A few charter schools have said they may allow students unable to work from home to participate in remote learning on campus.

Will teachers be teaching from home or from their classrooms?

Teachers will be allowed to work from school buildings, though there will be restrictions on the number who can be present in a building. Teachers must undergo health screenings before they enter school campuses, and they must work from the same classroom each day.

How much real-time instruction is there?

D.C. Public Schools students at all grade levels will receive standard live instruction every weekday except Wednesday. The hours will vary depending on grade level. Prekindergarten students will have about 30 to 60 minutes of real-time instruction, plus recorded lessons and independent activities. Elementary students will have two to three hours a day of real-time instruction, plus recorded lessons. Middle- and high-schoolers will have four to five hours a day of real-time classes. Here are some sample schedules the school system provided.

On Wednesdays, instead of the usual live instruction, students from kindergarten through high school will have virtual office hours with teachers, small-group learning and/or supplemental classes, which could include college- and career-exploration courses.

In the charter sector, the hours can vary by school.

How is attendance being tracked?

Student must log on to the school system’s online platform, Canvas, at least once between 6 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. each day to be marked present for class. However, students’ grades will not be penalized for unexcused absences, though students can be penalized for not participating or submitting assignments. The school system says a student of any age who is absent for 20 days in a row without an excuse may be withdrawn from school.

Attendance is also compulsory for charter students.

Is grading different from in a typical year?

Students will be graded as usual.

In prekindergarten classes, children will receive marks at the end of each grading period indicating whether they are below, meeting or exceeding developmental expectations.

At the elementary level, teachers are expected to give students at least one grade a week, or two every 10 days. At the end of the grading period, students will receive numerical grades indicating how well they have mastered the academic content. They will also receive marks indicating how well they have mastered skills and met expectations.

In middle and high school, 20 percent of grades will be based on student engagement. Forty percent will be based on practice and application, which includes student assignments. And 40 percent will be based on assessments. The school system says that teachers should be providing students various opportunities to earn points. And teachers are prohibited from entering a final grade for the term unless students have completed at least nine assignments during the term.

How are art, music and physical education taught to elementary school children?

These courses will also be taught virtually.

How long are high school sports postponed?

The D.C. State Athletic Association announced that it has canceled high school sports until Jan. 21. The city will use the latest health data to determine whether there will be a spring sports season.

If students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, how will they get those lunches?

Students or their guardians can pick up breakfasts and lunches at their schools. They can pick up meals for a few days at one time. The meal program will operate differently from the way it did in the spring or summer, when families could pick up meals at any school providing food.

Under federal rules, families in the fall must pick up meals at a campus within the school system their child is enrolled in. Each of the city’s more than 60 charter networks is considered its own school system. That means charter families must pick up meals at a campus in the child’s charter network — even if none is close to home. If families have children at schools in different networks, they must pick up meals from different schools. Children in the traditional public school system can pick up meals at any campus within the school system. The city is required to follow these rules to be reimbursed by the federal government for meals served.

Do the schools offer child-care options for working parents or school employees?

Schools are not providing child care. But the school system is encouraging private companies that typically provide after-school programming to work with the school system to offer in-person child care in small groups. Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said that such groups will not be available in school buildings at the start of the academic year. In April, the city launched a handful of emergency child-care sites for the families of essential workers. Some of these operate on public school campuses and will remain open in the fall.

If a child needs to see a school mental health specialist or counselor, how will those visits take place?

Mental health workers will still report to schools as they did when the buildings were open. However, most sessions will now be conducted virtually. The Department of Behavioral Health operates the DC Access Hotline, 877-7WE-HELP, which families can call anytime. In some cases, clinicians will meet students in-person in their neighborhoods.

Has the school system curriculum changed as a result of the pandemic? Is the material being covered the same as in other years?

The school system has made adjustments for the upcoming academic year to account for unfinished learning in the spring. But the chancellor said students will be learning new material in the first weeks of the school year and engaging in grade-level instruction. Schools will also have a Living Through History program, which will give students a chance to reflect on this moment in history — including the pandemic and the protests calling for racial justice occurring across the country.

Will standardized tests take place?

Standardized tests are currently slated to take place in the District, although that may change as the year progresses. Last school year, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos allowed states to apply to waive the requirement.

Illustrations by iStock.

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