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Teachers Plan Car Rally for Safe School Opening

District teachers are organizing a caravan rally Monday, July 20 to amplify voices calling for adequate safety precautions and funding for distance learning before schools are reopened.

The Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) has organized an “#OnlyWhenItsSafe Car Caravan” that will begin at Ballou High School, travelling to the homes of DC Councilmembers to draw attention to demands for safety as schools prepare to reopen after they were closed in March due to the COVID pandemic. Parents, neighbors and other members of the school community are encouraged to join and to paint their cars with slogans such as #onlywhenitssafe.

Teachers and members of the school community will gather at 1 p.m. Monday, July 20 in the large parking lot at Ballou High School (3401 Fourth St. SE) to decorate cars and form a caravan.

The caravan will visit the houses of members of the DC Council the day before the final FY21 Budget Vote to draw attention to what they say is a need for:

  1. DCPS to do proper due diligence to reopen schools
  2. DC Council to approve more funding to DCPS, dedicated towards the extra costs for Reopening our schools and engaging in distance learning including an $11 million for added technology costs to get DCPS up to 1-1 computers.

Although Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told CNN’s “State of the Union” that school districts should be making plans to get students back in school, many school districts, including those in San Diego and Los Angeles as well as neare Montgomery County Public Schools have announced their intention to reopen with distance learning only.

DC Public Schools (DCPS) has not yet released plans for the fall semester. At her July 13th situational update, Mayor Muriel Bowser said that residents can expect to learn more information about the upcoming school year at DC Public Schools on Thursday, July 16. DC Council will have a second vote on the District budget for Fiscal Year 2021 Tuesday, July 21, during which funding for the next school year, much of which is expected to take place during a pandemic, will be set.

In a newsletter sent to families, DCPS said that results of a survey conducted in late May and early June appeared to indicate that families want a mix of distance and at-home learning, with the right to choose which is best for their family.

However, the teacher’s union pushed back on reopening, calling for more research and more funding. On June 22, WTU released a report giving recommendations on ways the school system can work with teachers to ensure safety and improve the education of DC students as schools reopen.

More than 50% of teachers either are at high risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19 or live with someone who is, according to preliminary surveys of union members.

“These factors place severe constraints on the ability of teachers to return to in-person learning,” the report says.

President of Washington Teacher’s Union Local 8 Elizabeth Davis appears on a panel, 2019. Photo: E.O’Gorek/CCN

WTU President Elizabeth Davis said the move to close schools and move to Distance Learning in the spring was the right choice. “However, Distance Learning shined new light on the widespread opportunity gaps and the digital divide that plagues our city,” Davis added. “As we move to reopen our schools this summer, we must do so in a way that protects the health of our teachers, students and communities while also investing in our technology infrastructure.”

The WTU taskforce, made up of more than 200 teachers, also makes recommendations about improvements to Distance Learning, with the understanding that many students will not be able to return to school full-time in the 2020-21 school year. The WTU calls for an increased investment of $11 million to ensure all DCPS students receive a computer or tablet in the District’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget. The WTU report is available in its entirety here.

Attendees are encouraged to use the hashtag #OnlyWhenItsSafe and tag @WTUteacher in photos. Participants who do not have cars can also join in by putting signs in home windows. Get more information and sign up to join the event by visiting the WTU #OnlyWhenItsSafe sign up page.

You can watch the full Legislative Meeting of DC Council, held virtually at 10 a.m. Tuesday, July 21, through the DC Council site.

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