Rally on Reopening Schools in Lincoln Park Friday

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A crowd gathers near Mary MCLeod Bethune for the Oct Walk-to-School Day, also planned by W6PSPO. Photo: S. Payne/CCN

Teachers and parents will speak at a rally Friday in Lincoln Park, offering their perspective  on the impact of DC Public Schools (DCPS) plans to reopen schools for in-person learning.

The rally, sponsored by Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization (W6PSPO) takes place Friday Oct 30 from 5 to 6 p.m. in Lincoln Park (East Capitol Street between 11th and 13th Streets).

Members of the W6PSO have raised questions about the plans and the process in public forums. In testimony given at meetings of the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) Oct. 20 and 21, representatives questioned the readiness of buildings and the lack of participation in the planning process by teachers and families.

W6PSPO sent an open letter asking parents for their feelings on reopening, W6PSPO President Suzanne Wells told the SBOE. Many cited concerns about their child’s safety should they return to school buildings. “What surprised me the most in the answers we got is how many parents were concerned that the reopening plan would disrupt the online learning currently occurring,” she added.

The Washington Teacher’s Union (WTU) rallied in front of the John A. Wilson building Oct 23 to express their concern with the plan. In a statement released prior to rally, WTU President Elizabeth Davis said union members only saw some elements of the plan at a DCPS press conference a day earlier. She said the plan was not equitable and did not put students first.

“Our demands are for common sense protections for our communities including but not limited to access to testing, licensed nurses on-site at every school, verification that our HVAC systems work properly to circulate air and prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” she said in the statement. “DCPS must treat teachers and community members as full partners in developing and in verifying plans to keep everyone safe.”

At a Oct. 22nd Situational Update, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said that despite the efforts of DCPS, learning at home is not a working solution for every student and family, and DCPS was looking to provide an opportunity to provide in-person learning experiences for those who need it. Ferebee said that there was a 9 percent reduction in students meeting or exceeding literacy benchmarks compared to the start of last year, 22 percent for kindergarten. The plan prioritizes students who are homeless, English-learners, at-risk or need special education services.

Ferebee pointed to a $31 million investment in school safety, including $4.5 million in buiding readiness and $24 million in HVAC enhancements. “We will continue in good faith discussions and bargaining with WTU as with other partners to ensure that we are providing our students with access to high-quality instruction,” Ferebee said. “We’re still optimistic that we will reach a common ground.”

Later that week, DCPS informed middle and high school teachers that support staff, including personnel such as librarians, assistant principals and administrative workers would be reassigned from the upper school to elementary schools in order to support in-person and CARES classrooms. Some educators said this move disregards the needs of secondary students to prioritize getting elementary students in buildings.

The Oct 30 W6PSPO rally meets at the Mary McLead Bethune statue near the east quadrant of Lincoln Park. Participants are encouraged to bring signs, wear masks and stand six feet or more apart. Learn more about W6PSPO or the event by visiting w6pspo.org.