The District’s public schools, closed since March 16, had been scheduled to reopen on April 27. But Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Wednesday that the city would extend the closures until May 15, and maybe longer. Her administration is expected to make more school-related announcements Friday.
The city hopes to work with regional jurisdictions as it decides how to reopen schools and businesses, according to John Falcicchio, the mayor’s chief of staff. The coordination is particularly important between Maryland and Washington because a large percentage of the District’s government workers reside in the Maryland suburbs.
Virginia has already announced that all of its public schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year. Like the District, Maryland is taking a more incremental approach. Its public schools are officially only closed through April 27, though few expect them to open then.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has said Maryland is tracking the trend on the coronavirus and waiting to see how much preventive measures help “flatten the curve” on new cases. But some officials have raised the specter of a long road ahead.
“I’m not sure that we are going to be doing school in the same way going forward,” State Superintendent Karen Salmon said during a teleconference last week with state lawmakers, raising the possibility that remote learning could be needed in the fall.
For now, school leaders say they are still perfecting remote learning while thinking about how they will ramp up academics once students are allowed back in classrooms.
Bowser’s administration has said that whenever students return, they will require extra support to make up for missed class time. She is expected to provide more details Friday on how the city will attempt to give students more instruction time. Bowser said on a conference call last week with dozens of leaders that the District has explored adjusted summer schedules and a modified academic calender for the coming year.
“All of those things are on the table,” she said.
Depending on which plans stick, school officials may also be forced to navigate complicated relationships with unionized teachers, who work on 10-month contracts. Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, said she is not opposed to adding extra school days but leaders should work with the union on any calender changes. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has called on Congress to include money in a stimulus bill that would pay teachers who volunteer to work hours beyond their teacher contracts.
The D.C. union circulated a survey among its nearly 5,000 members this week to determine how they would prefer to give students extra learning. One option included ending the current academic year early and giving students more summer instruction. Another included starting school early next year. The current academic year is scheduled to end June 19.
“We want to be included in whatever decision is made,” Davis said. “We don’t want it to be a unilateral decision without teacher input.”
The city’s 120 charter campuses, which are publicly funded and privately operated, have been following the school system’s coronavirus closure schedule. But the charters, which are smaller operations, would likely have more flexibility if they want to make adjustments to their calendars once students are allowed to return.
Adam Rupe, spokesman for KIPP DC, the city’s largest charter network, with seven campuses, said the network is exploring multiple options, including having prolonged summer school or a longer academic year in 2020-2021.
If officials allow schools to bring limited numbers of students into buildings, Rupe said, Kipp has discussed giving students with special education needs or students in transition grades, including sixth and ninth grade, extra instruction time. The network has explored what it would look like if some students reported to school on certain days, to ensure schools do not create a health hazard by having too many people in buildings.
He also said the network has discussed how it would handle the logistics of taking temperatures of every student upon entrance if health officials require that.
“We have lots of plans, and we’re eager to start and implement them, but none of us know what the virus is going to do,” Rupe said.
The District’s deputy mayor for education, Paul Kihn, said that health and safety will drive the city’s decisions but that education leaders will also account for the effectiveness of remote learning when determining how schools should proceed.
“Certainly remediation and additional supports will be necessary,” Kihn said in a statement. “With the health and safety of residents being a priority, those decisions will also be reflective of our assessment of the overall efficacy of remote learning and the Administration’s commitment to equity and meeting the social-emotional and academic needs of every public school student in the District.”
Virginia officials have not addressed publicly how next year’s academic calendar might change, but they have said they plan to incorporate this year’s material into next school year.
In Maryland, after the state schools chief raised the idea of online learning next fall, Hogan’s spokesman quickly tweeted that no school calendar decisions had been made but that officials are “taking active steps now to prepare for potential future needs, and this includes a focus on enhancing distance and online learning.”
The lack of clarity on the remainder of the school year has left some Maryland school officials juggling varied scenarios. Should they focus all of their energy on distance learning, or should they also be preparing for the large task of reopening schools? And what about summer learning?
In Montgomery County, schools spokesman Derek Turner said the school system — the state’s largest, with more than 166,000 students — understands that deciding when to reopen schools is difficult. Still, he said, “the sooner we find out, the more we can focus our attention on a single plan.
Hannah Natanson contributed to this report.