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DC School Year to Begin Online

DC Public Schools will begin the 2020-21 school year with all-virtual learning, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced July 29 during her situational update. The virtual start will last until at least November 6, Bowser said, or the first quarter of the academic year.

Charter schools make independent decisions about the format for school years, but Deputy Mayor of Education (DME) Paul Kihn said that they had worked with charter schools on the decision-making process, and that many will make their decisions in the coming days. “Most charter schools, I believe, will adopt a posture similar to DCPS’s,” Kihn said.

Bowser and DC Chancellor Lewis Ferebee were prepared at the situational update on July 16 to announce a hybrid model, with 2 days in-person learning and 3 virtual. That decision was delayed to monitor the health data, and District officials say that data indicates that transmission rates are on the rise.

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All students will have daily live virtual classes and independent work.  In a change from tentative plans presented July 16, pre-K students will be offered a virtual option as well, including scheduled nap time, live classes and one-on-one time with teachers. Classes are expected to more structured and predictable than they were in the spring, with clear expectations for attendance, assignments and grading.

The older students are, the more hours of live instruction will be offered. Students from K to grade 2 will have about 2 hours of live instruction, whereas high school students could have up to five hours of learning. Most independent learning for all grade levels will take place Wednesday, a decision that DC officials hope will facilitate a potential switch to a hybrid schedule, if it becomes possible.

Students requiring special education, English language or other supports will receive those services, and students with IEP plans will have a distance learning plan added to those plans.

The choice to move to a virtual schedule was a difficult one. Bowser has emphasized that officials think students are better served in-school, particularly those considered at-risk or who received free or reduced-cost lunch.

Screenshot Twitter/@MayorBowser

A school survey sent to communities in June received over 17,000 responses and Klein said that they overwhelmingly prioritized health and safety, predictability in scheduling and family choice for in-person versus virtual learning.

DME Kihn said the District understand the concerns families and the community have about access to technology. “In fact, we share those concerns because we understand the concerns about inequality in our community,” said Kihn. “Today that is in large part what makes me so concerned about having students out of the classroom for months at a time, but we are committed to getting every student who needs a device the tools they need to successfully participate in virtual learning.”

Kihn said that families can call their schools to inform them about their technology needs, and Ferebee added internet access and devices would be distributed based on feedback from families.

Ferebee said that 13,000 responses had been received to the technology survey, especially from the elementary schools, a ratio he attributed to the fact that DCPS had prioritized the higher grades for device distribution last school year. He said data indicates that 40-50 percent of students may not have access to a device at home, and the majority that do, have access to it throughout the day.

See the full presentation, including schedules and data on the upcoming school year online here.

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