Dear WTU members,
It’s been quite a school year so far. You’ve been through some pretty tough challenges but met them with your usual strength and grace. We made some gains; tried with all our might to work through continuing problems with returning to teaching in-person; and still we have lots of work ahead of us to make sure every teacher, school employee and student is safe and that our kids get the best education possible under the very difficult circumstances of COVID-19.
When schools re-opened this fall, we thought we might have the worst of the pandemic behind us and we could start and keep in-school instruction—the best place to learn. But the pandemic, especially the Omicron variant, reared its ugly head. The big problem we have been facing is a lack of an actual plan to deal with serious outbreaks in numerous schools, including some that had many teachers and staff testing positive.
Over the past few days, we have been fighting for DCPS to turn “what to do if” concerns into policies that we can count on. I’m disappointed that DCPS did not communicate in a timely manner a clear and effective plan and policy in dealing with the rise in the Omincron variant. Some schools went virtual, but employees and parents weren’t told which ones until the night before—not enough time for everyone to make plans, especially parents who work and need to make arrangements for their young kids.
We remain adamant that school and city officials have a written plan—ready to go into effect as soon as the winter break ends—on how they will handle outbreaks to ensure the health and safety of all teachers, staff and students. I have made it clear to Chancellor Ferebee that the plan should include:
- A more effective way of contact tracing, testing and notifying the community, including teachers of positive COVID-19 cases.
- The criteria for determining the threshold upon which a school is closed, such as how many teachers and students are infected and quarantined.
- A commitment to distribute tech devices that students can take home in case their school building is closed and must return to remote learning.
- Follow through on DCPS’s commitment to distribute at-home COVID-19 tests to educators.
- A commitment to encourage parents or guardians to test all children before coming back to school after the winter break.
As I said, it’s been a tough school year, starting with the untimely death of President Elizabeth Davis. I know that morale is low. This was reflected in a WTU-EmpowerEd survey that also showed many teachers were considering leaving the profession. I don’t want that to become a reality; it would be such a loss for our students.
In the coming year, I plan to spend considerable time fighting for a better evaluation system that is not biased, racist or unfair. I also commit to working to eliminate the scourge of over-testing, among the most identified reasons why morale is so low. And of course, WTU will work to achieve a fair and equitable contract.
On the bright side, we were able to secure two Memorandums of Agreement. Both MOAs ensure the following for all teachers:
- If a teacher is required to quarantine, DCPS shall give the teacher the option to teach remotely and not require teacher to use sick leave.
- If a teacher is required to provide simultaneous instruction for a semester to meet the needs of virtual and in-person students, teachers will receive a $1200 stipend per semester.
- If a teacher is required to provide simultaneous instruction that does not have semester long assignment, the teacher shall receive a one-time stipend of $300 per semester. Payment will be provided at the end of the school year.
- DCPS shall grant each teacher 3 hours of sick leave per injection for a vaccination or booster against COVID-19. Each teacher shall receive 8 hours of sick leave for getting fully vaccinated or a booster.
- DCPS shall provide on-site testing for COVID-19 at no cost for all teachers, including vaccinated teachers who are symptomatic.
- DCPS shall provide COVID-19 mail-in kits to all teachers, including vaccinated teachers, weekly.
In addition, over the past year, WTU has worked with its legal counsel to successfully advocate for teachers in arbitration and litigation. We settled several cases, securing backpay for teachers who were wrongly excessed and terminated. Just a few days ago, we received an arbitration decision awarding backpay and reinstatement to another teacher who was wrongly excessed. Several other cases remain pending. We also obtained a ruling from the DC Public Employee Relations Board rejecting DCPS’s attempt to deny teachers the right to decide whether their hearings should proceed virtually or in person. Finally, we enforced the COVID safety agreements reached by the WTU and DCPS, taking the school district to arbitration when it failed to comply with safety requirements prior to the reopening of schools in February.
Thanks to your strong advocacy and actions on all levels as well as the support of Councilmember Janeese Lewis George, we now have a librarian in each school. This shows what we can do when we work in unity.
For the next week, I hope you take time to take care of yourselves, be around family and friends in a safe way and enjoy your time off.
Please reach out to me, the WTU office or your field representative during the winter break with any concerns. The office, though, will be closed on Christmas Eve and December 30th and New Year’s Eve.
Have a wonderful holiday season and a very happy and healthy New Year.
Jacqueline Pogue Lyons