- The Washington Times - Monday, November 16, 2020

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said Monday that more than 50 classrooms at 29 schools will open Wednesday with capacity to serve more than 600 students.

The Canvas Academics and Real Engagement (CARE) classrooms will allow elementary students to learn virtually in a classroom supervised by a non-instructional staff member.

“We did hear from a number of parents [that] one of the challenges is for, ya know, parents and guardians to be engaged with learning at home, and to be able to provide supports and supervision accordingly,” Mr. Ferebee said during a press conference.

Mr. Ferebee said about 56 CARE classrooms will be open at the start of the second quarter for students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. They will meet five days a week, and Wednesday will serve as a half-day.

More students will be able to return in-person as additional CARE classrooms are set to open in December and January, which may require supplementary staff including DCPS employees, city volunteers via Partners in Education, and “qualified” temporary hires.

More than 400 families reportedly have confirmed they want their children to return to school in person, and the District will reach out to more families to fill other seats.

DCPS reportedly has spent $31 million on safety measures, including $24 million for HVAC upgrades, $4.5 million for “building readiness” and $3.6 million for personal protective equipment.

The decision to bring students back comes one week after the school system scrapped a plan to allow 7,000 randomly selected elementary schoolers to return to campuses on Nov. 9. The return was halted last Monday on the same day that members of the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) called in sick as a protest.

In an email to parents, Mr. Ferebee said “feedback” from community members prompted DCPS to “adjust [the] timeline and staffing plans for reopening.”

Under the initial DCPS’ “Reopen Strong” plan, those chosen to return would have been given two in-person instruction options, including being taught in-person by a teacher or virtually in a CARE classroom.

Students in middle and high school were set to continue with online instruction “with a possible transition” to in-person learning on Feb. 1.

The proposal was met with petitions and protests by community members over safety and equity concerns.

Later in the week, WTU and DCPS tentatively reached an agreement on an adjusted plan which gives union members the option to return in-person for the second quarter.

For the third and fourth quarters, those who do not have exemptions must return if the demand for in-person learning exceeds the number of teachers who volunteer to go back.

Union President Elizabeth Davis said she will decide whether to sign off on the new plan by Tuesday.

D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman, at-large independent, said Monday in a press release that she was “disappointed” by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson’s decision not to include in Tuesday’s agenda a bill she had proposed related to DCPS’ reopening.

The “COVID-19 DCPS Reopening Emergency Act of 2020” aimed to “establish clear data, information, and timetables needed to be in place to return to the classroom,” she said.

Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said during Monday’s briefing that it was not “appropriate” for the Council to establish but he might have a different view “if it was better developed.”

Meanwhile, the largest school district in Virginia on Monday delayed plans to allow more students back in classrooms amid a recent uptick in coronavirus cases.

Fairfax County Public School students in early Head Start, pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and select special education classes will now have to wait until Nov. 30 to return in-person. The school district has been reopening classrooms in phases since October.

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