Council of the District of Columbia
Committee of the Whole
Public Roundtable: Re-Opening District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS)
January 21, 2020
Statement by Elizabeth Davis, President
Washington Teachers’ Union
I’m encouraged that the Council is holding today’s hearing. I hope this shows that the Committee of the Whole, under the leadership of Chairman Mendelson, will take seriously the many challenges facing our education systems in the District. The work ahead of us is daunting – our city is plagued by large opportunity and achievement gaps and the city lacks a unified plan for our school systems and to invest in school facilities to conquer these challenges. Immediately, before us, is our challenge to safely reopen schools to in-person learning.
As we have today’s conversation, we must remember: the virus is more prevalent in our community today than when we closed schools in the spring. There is a new, highly contagious stain that has emerged. And, new research continues to show that while students are not at a high risk for severe complications from COVID-19, they play a significant role in the virus’ spread.
Despite our desire to return to our school buildings and see our students, many teachers are frightened. They’re frightened of a disease that has killed more than 400,000 American citizens. They’re frightened that they’ll bring this deadly virus into their own homes as well as that of their students.
We cannot emphasize enough – as educators we can help student regain lost learning. We cannot replace a lost loved one.
In December, in an effort to clearly outline the conditions that the WTU believes need to be met to facilitate a safe return to our school buildings, including a facility checklist that would ensure every building that opened met strict safety conditions, the WTU and DCPS agreed to a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). We had hoped that the agreement would mean that DCPS would move forward in partnership with its workforce and community partners, sharing data and information, to enable a safe return to our school buildings. However, the agreement has done little to change the conditions on the ground. I continue to have the same questions and concerns that the plans put forth by DCPS to reopen to in-person learning on February 1.
As in the fall, the WTU and our teachers continue to hear of plans to reopen our schools via press release and not through detailed communications.
Earlier this week, the WTU sent DCPS a letter requesting expedited arbitration of our concerns around the city’s failure to meet the terms of the MOA. The list of demands is included in my written statement. The two most significant concerns are that DCPS continues to withhold data around family demand for in-person learning seats and DCPS has continually failed to provide the documentation needed to ensure our school buildings are safe.
We urge the Council to require DCPS work with us to provide the information that teachers and families need so they can confidently return to in-person learning.
Teachers understand and sympathize with those who want to return to our classrooms. Distance instruction cannot replace the experiences our students get in a classroom. We understand the social and developmental concerns facing our students in this distance environment. However, as educators, our obligation is to serve our students, to educate them and help ensure they can live happy and fulfilling lives. We also have an obligation is to protect them from the ravages of a deadly virus.
We ask that the Council look closely at the plans and ask (1) do the plans being proposed truly serve those furthest from opportunity and help them regain lost learning? and (2) why are we rushing so many individuals back into our buildings when we are just weeks away from ensuring they’re protected from this deadly disease? We believe that the response will be eye-opening.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to working with you to protect our communities and ensure every student receives a high-quality education across the District of Columbia. It is important to get it right. The challenges that we face are nothing compared to the loss of a loved one.
For Immediate Release
December 22, 2020
Washington DC Teachers Release Statement Council’s Decision to Disband Education Committee
WASHINGTON — The Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) President Elizabeth Davis released the following statement on the DC Council’s decision to disband the Committee on Education.
“We appreciate that the Council demonstrated the importance of education in the District by bringing it under the purview of the Chairman of the Council during the current Council period. However, the Chairman of the Council has many important competing priorities and our education system and students need a committee chairperson who has as their top priority the administration of the Committee on Education and oversight of the associated agencies.
“In the coming Council session, local education agencies will be developing plans to safely reopen our schools. Additionally, over the coming months, our educational systems will need to develop plans to fully bridge the digital divide and achievement gaps that have long plagued our city, potentially with reductions in funding. In the coming year, the Council should also provide rigorous oversight on efforts to improve attendance and graduation rates, improve special educational services, and reduce school -based violence. These efforts will take significant action by the school agencies, as well as the Council to legislate and oversee the goals and activities of the Executive.
“The Council is the only elected body in the District with the authority to provide oversight of our educational systems. It is a full-time job. And it is a job that needs a champion, an elected representative whose main priority is the investigation, oversight, and leadership of DC’s student’s needs. It is critical that this issue have the full attention of a member of the DC Council and a committed staff.”
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For Immediate Release
December 17, 2020
Washington DC Teachers, DC Public Schools Reach Agreement to Reopen Schools
Memorandum outlines key conditions to promote a safe return to in-person learning
WASHINGTON – The Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) is pleased to announce an agreement with DC Public Schools on a Memorandum of Agreement that lays out conditions needed to return to in-person learning.
“DC teachers miss our students and recognize that many have struggled to adapt to distance learning,” said WTU President Elizabeth Davis. “Reopening our schools won’t be a return to normal; we are committed to finding ways to best support our students who have struggled the most during the pandemic.”
The agreement is effective through the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year or through the end of the COVID-19 pandemic health emergency, whichever is sooner. It calls for increased transparency around facility walk-throughs, ensuring that Local School Advisory Teams (LSAT’s), bodies elected to represent school communities, and other members of local school communities are able to verify that facilities are ready to reopen.
“The safety of our students, school –based staff, and communities must remain our top priority,” Davis continued. “As we move forward, it is critical that our individual schools are open about the work that has been done to ensure proper air circulation and other protections are in place in every school building before it reopens to in-person learning. We must take every precaution and build trust that we’ve done all that is possible to safeguard our communities.”
The MOA also lays out conditions to staff a return to in-person instruction. Under the terms of the agreement, DPS will administer to members of the WTU will respond to a survey with the options: “1) I am interested in returning to teach in person” and “2) I am interested in continuing Distance Learning.” DCPS will provide the WTU with data about the demand for in-person seats and, if family demand exceeds availability of bargaining unit members, DCPS may assign bargaining unit members for in-person instruction, for Terms 3 and 4, excluding staff who have been approved for leave or a virtual workplace accommodation pursuant to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the COVID-19 Emergency Support Act (CESA), the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the DC FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or any other applicable law shall not be required to teach in-person.
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The WTU represents more than 5,000 active and retired teachers. It is dedicated to social and educational justice for the students of the District of Columbia and to improving the quality of support, resources, compensation and working conditions for the public servants and proud teachers who educate our students in D.C. Public Schools.
COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE & COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION
Return to In-person Instruction in DC Public Schools
Testimony of Elizabeth A. Davis, President
Washington Teachers’ Union
AFT Local 6
Good afternoon. I am Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU). The WTU represents 5,000 active and retired teachers. We are dedicated to social and educational justice for the students of the District of Columbia and to improving the quality of support, resources, compensation and working conditions for the public servants and proud teachers who educate our students.
As I begin this afternoon, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to mention the opportunity gaps that continue to plague our schools. Many students in our city don’t have access to a librarian. Many students don’t have access to Algebra or Geometry. Many do not receive the same education in social studies or the Arts as their peers in other parts of the city. While the health pandemic has brought renewed attention to the Digital Divide, it has long been a daily obstacle for many of our students. Closing the opportunity gaps that plague our school systems and the resulting achievement gaps (see Appendix 1) must be our daily focus.
I am a teacher. I believe our students are only limited by the opportunities that we provide them. The past year has been difficult for us all. I am immensely proud of our teachers who have opened their homes to students and who have spent countless hours learning new technology and preparing to make their distance classes engaging for their students. Yet, we know that many teachers have struggled to adapt to distance learning. Many students have also struggled. We all yearn for a return to the classroom.
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DC Public Schools
Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) Budget Engagement
November 23, 2020
Good evening. I am Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU). The WTU represents 5,000 active and retired teachers. We are dedicated to social and educational justice for the students of the District of Columbia and to improving the quality of support, resources, compensation and working conditions for the public servants and proud teachers who educate our students.
I am a teacher. I believe our students are only limited by the opportunities that we provide them. As we begin conversations about the upcoming budget, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to highlight the opportunity gaps that continue to plague our schools and many students. While the health pandemic has brought renewed attention to these gaps, we have long known that they have existed. It is time that we acknowledge the impact that these opportunity gaps – especially the digital divide – has on the achievement of our students. And, as we emerge from this crisis, it is critical that the FY2022 DCPS budget adequately reflects our reality and adequately invests in all our students (see Appendix 1).Read more
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