Citing uncertainty about trends of District COVID-19 transmission, the announcement on reopening District of Columbia Public Schools has been delayed to July 31, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said in her July 16 situational update.
“On the 31st, depending on health indicators, we could decide that we’re only going to be able to start the school year virtually and may move throughout the school year to another option,” Bowser said. A decision is necessary by July 31 for planning reasons, Bowser said.
“We start with this value: that students are better served in their classrooms, with their teachers and their peers. None of us know the impact of having our kids out of school for up to a year,” she said, adding that it is not ideal for serving learning, social or emotional needs.
The current, tentative plan is to reopen DCPS with hybrid and virtual learning options, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said. The school year is set to start August 31. Parents will be asked to commit to an option for a term ending in late October, with the option of making a different choice in early November.
Under the current plan, families can opt for a virtual or hybrid model. The hybrid model organizes students into cohorts to reduce potential COVID-19 spread. Ferebee said Pre-Kindergarten 3 and 4 students would be organized into two groups, with the first group attending in-person instruction on Monday and Tuesday and the second group going to schools on Thursday and Friday. Virtual learning is not an option for these students.
DCPS would offer elementary school students the same hybrid model, as well as an entirely virtual option. For students in grades six through 12, the hybrid model would involve one day of in-person instruction and four days of virtual instruction. An all-virtual option is also available.
Deep cleaning would take place Wednesday, a day of virtual instruction for all grade levels.
Ferebee said DCPS is prioritizing its “earliest learners,” as well as students with disabilities, students with Individualized Education Programs and students with “other unique services that may need to be provided in-person.” He added that the current plan is based on guidance from DC Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Bowser emphasized that health data will decide whether the District can ultimately provide hybrid learning. If hybrid instruction is deemed safe, Bowser said providing it to all families who opt for it is “only limited by… staffing concerns.” Bowser said potential staffing availability issues will become clearer if hybrid instruction is allowed. DCPS is offering staff paid leave related to COVID-19, she added.
In response to concerns that working parents with children across grade levels would struggle to accommodate varied schedules if they opt for hybrid learning, Ferebee said DCPS would “prioritize sibling preference” for registration.
Though charter schools have the authority to develop their own plans, many look to DCPS for guidance. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn said charter leaders should wait to make final decisions about the school year before more health data is known.
“As we follow the data and information coming from DC Health, we assume that many [public charter schools] will follow suit,” Kihn said.
Mayor Bowser acknowledged that she had the authority to compel public charter schools to use the same schedule for reasons of public health, but hesitated to commit to doing so to align schedules. “If they were for example, trying to open for five days a week when we thought that the health indicators would not allow it, then I would intervene on that decision.”
Eva Herscowitz is a journalism student at Northwestern University currently interning with Capital Community News. She writes for Northwestern’s student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern. You can reach her at email@example.com