Council Testimony - Reopening DC Public Schools

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.

 

President Davis' full statement is available here.


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