Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said a decision on whether all students can return to classrooms in November is imminent.
The principals at each of the 13 schools submitted proposals to reopen for small groups, and the programming at each school will look different, city officials said. Some plan to offer tutoring, social-emotional supports or physical education. In all, each school will serve 20 to 100 students over the course of a week — a small portion of the more than 50,000 public school students in the school system. Some charter schools began offering in-person learning in August.
Students in the cosmetology and barbering programs at Ballou STAY, a high school in Southeast Washington that serves students who struggled on traditional campuses, returned to classrooms Monday.
The mayor was joined at her regular news conference by members of her administration, including Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee. The administration is trying to make the case to staff and parents that they can trust the school system to safely educate students in buildings.
One of the concerns cited by teachers and principals is faulty HVAC systems. Of the school system’s 80 elementary schools, 24 have open work orders for their HVAC systems. Ferebee said that most of the broken HVAC systems are affecting only small portions of the school buildings.
The city also plans to reopen 29 recreation centers Oct. 13, including six indoor pools, according to Delano Hunter, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. The city will begin issuing a small number of outdoor permits for “moderate” and “low” contact sports on Oct. 1.
The Department of Parks and Recreation operated in-person summer camps for 1,080 children and reported no coronavirus outbreaks connected to the activities, Hunter said.
Ferebee said that the principals at these 13 schools — the school system has 115 schools — volunteered to reopen. Ferebee said staff members will not be forced to return for small groups of in-person learning.
Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, said she only learned from the mayor’s announcement which 13 schools would reopen. She said that the city needs to build trust with parents and teachers and that she does not believe city leaders are working closely enough with them.
The union wants administrators to lead parents and staff on walk-throughs of buildings before they reopen to show them the safety features. Davis said the chancellor has not responded to the request. “The message so far has been just ‘trust us to do the right thing,’ ” she said. “We all want students to get back to in-person learning, but they are only going to trust the process that DCPS is using to ensure schools are safe if they are part of the process.”
Brigid Hogan is a teacher at Roosevelt High, one of the 13 campuses expected to reopen for small groups. She said her principal told teachers Monday that they would not be required to participate, and Hogan does not plan to return just yet. While teaching at the school, she said, she has contracted pneumonia twice and fears for her health if she returns. “I do not foresee a scenario in which I’m in the school building in the near future. I’m not sure what the consequences will be,” Hogan said. “The fact that [they are saying] it is optional is all well and good, but there are many things at schools that stop being optional once it becomes the status quo.”
Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn said his staff interviewed 18 private and public charter schools that are serving students in person for advice on how to reopen. Staff at these schools reported that students were able to keep their masks on all day and that schools said that more and more parents became confident with in-person learning after they saw campuses reopen and understood the protocols in place, according to Kihn.
“Teachers also reported feeling safer when leadership of schools responded to feedback that they offered,” Kihn said. “What became clear to schools was that teacher anxieties really lessened once they were back in the buildings following protocols.”
Kevin McGilly, the foster parent of a special-education student at Eastern High, has been pushing for schools to reopen for students with high needs. He said his son is falling behind during remote learning and, because he is typically in classrooms with just six students, McGilly thinks he can safely return. McGilly said his son “squealed with delight” when he learned Monday that Eastern was one of the 13 schools that would reopen for small groups.
They now hope he is one of the students invited to return.
“I don't know what it really means yet, what the particulars are,” McGilly said. “It is good news, it is progress.”
The 13 schools that the school system says will reopen are: Bancroft Elementary, Ballou STAY, Cardozo Education Campus, Eastern High, Kimball Elementary, Kramer Middle, Ludlow-Taylor Elementary, Mann Elementary, Noyes Elementary, Tyler Elementary, Phelps ACE High, Roosevelt High and Roosevelt STAY.