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Some D.C. public schools students could resume in-person classes in early August, if health conditions allow

Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said D.C. public schools could open Aug. 10 for some third-, sixth- and ninth-graders. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Some third-, sixth- and ninth-graders in D.C. public schools could start school in person in early August, weeks before school starts for other students, city officials announced Friday, offering a potential glimpse into a new school year expected to look markedly different from previous ones.

The plan is contingent upon the city entering Phase 2 of its reopening strategy, officials said. The city is expected to enter Phase 1 soon, but officials said they have not yet defined the metrics that will be required to enter the next phase.

The school year will begin Aug. 31, but officials are unsure whether it will be in person or remote. If there is some in-person learning, parents should expect modified schedules, with students attending school in person on some days and remotely on others. Any in-person learning is dependent on the city entering Phase 2 of the reopening plan.

Education officials did not say exactly what those hybrid schedules would look like, but they said they are surveying families to understand what they would prefer.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) stressed that the city is tracking the novel coronavirus closely but cannot yet give parents the definitive answers they are seeking.

“We are following how this virus is moving around this city and our ability to contain it and how well we can open slowly,” Bowser said. “We can do some things that we haven’t been able to do in the last two months, but we can’t go crazy.”

The plan to bring back students in third, sixth and ninth grades is designed to help stem learning losses for students at critical points in their education, officials have said. The program, which is being described as a “summer bridge” program, will be optional, but the school system will be able to accommodate all 11,500 students in those grade levels, Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said Friday. Ferebee said the district is looking at Aug. 10 as a potential start date.

Schools across the country have been shuttered since early spring, when the coronavirus started to spread across the United States. School districts across the country are considering similar plans to bring some students back early, said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of large, urban school districts.

The announcements arrived a day after the mayor’s advisory group delivered its cautious recommendations on how the city should reopen. Under the plan, which is also contingent on the city reaching Phase 2, schools would be restricted to 10 people per classroom and would have irregular schedules until a vaccine or cure is available.

Mayor’s advisers stress long road to full, in-person learning

But city leaders have said that these are recommendations and that the city is making plans without knowing exactly what health conditions will be in the fall. If health conditions improve or worsen, the plans could change, too.

Bowser spent the bulk of her daily briefing Friday on education, hinting at what the coming months would look like for parents and children in the nation’s capital.

Summer school will be remote, taking place between June 22 and July 24, with specialized programming for English language learners and students who have special-education needs.

The beloved Summer Youth Employment Program, which funds summer jobs for people ages 14 to 24, will go on, but most of the jobs will go virtual.

The Department of Parks and Recreation said it will provide 5,000 children with supplies and activities to have remote summer camp at home. If the city enters Phase 2 of the reopening plan, camp will switch to in-person, serving 3,200 students across 27 sites. There would be 10 children per site, officials said, with three two-week camp sessions.

Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn and Ferebee acknowledged that students have fallen behind during the campus closures. Kihn said the city is looking into giving students no-stakes diagnostic exams at the beginning of the next academic year to see where they stand.

Ferebee said the school system was also considering Saturday classes and extra instruction time during the regular school week.

High school graduation will also go virtual in June. Graduates will receive caps, gowns and yearbooks.

“We remain committed to having joyful, student-centered graduation ceremonies,” Ferebee said.

Ferebee said the city is considering changing remote-learning policies ahead of the fall. For example, while the school system tracks which students have been participating in distance learning, it does not formally take attendance. That could change as remote learning stretches on.

Tiffany Settle, mother of a third-grader and a seventh-grader at DC Prep charter school in Edgewood, said she understands there are factors beyond the city’s control but she wants officials to be open with parents about all the possibilities and plans.

Her younger child is excelling in distance learning, but she said it’s a struggle for her older son. If students cannot return in the fall, she hopes her kids’ school offers more live instruction.

“We need to be part of the process because we are the ones entrusting the city with our children,” she said. “None of these children are going to learn anything if all they are getting is 30 minutes with their teacher and then watching a video.”

Laura Meckler contributed to this report.

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