D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee on Thursday disputed a labor board ruling that orders his office to confer with the teachers union on reopening plans, saying such talks are ongoing.
“We are continuing to have conversations with the Washington Teachers’ Union in good faith,” Mr. Ferebee said during a coronavirus press briefing.
“We’ve dedicated over a hundred hours to discussions with the Washington Teachers Union around our reopening plans, including health and safety.”
The Public Employee Relations Board ruled Tuesday that “there is reasonable cause to believe” that the school system violated the law by failing to bargain with the union “over health and safety matters” related to reopening plans.
The teachers union stated in a press release earlier this month: “While our teachers want to return to our classrooms and resume in-person learning, we can only do so when it is safe and when the Mayor and Chancellor have come to the table to work with us and other Union leaders to ensure the safety of our students, school-based staff, and communities.”
Tuesday’s ruling ordered DCPS to rescind a form and survey sent to teachers regarding their intent to return in-person that was used to help determine staffing for reopening plans.
DCPS also must bargain with the union within five days of the ruling. Both parties were scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Thursday.
Under the current plan, students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade will be randomly selected to have the option to return to school in-person starting Nov. 9. The process reportedly will prioritize students who are designated as “at-risk,” experiencing homelessness, enrolled in special education, English language learners or siblings.
The District will offer two at-school instruction options, which include being taught in-person by a teacher or virtually in a student “Canvas Academics and Real Engagement” classroom supervised by a staff member.
WTU Board Executive Laura Fuchs tweeted Wednesday that the plan “poaches non-instructional staff” who currently are serving students by “putting them in CARES classrooms to babysit.”
“These are some of the most expensive (both in terms of money and expertise lost) babysitters you will ever meet,” Ms. Fuchs tweeted.
In response to a question about shifting staff, Mr. Ferebee said “we have learning gaps, and we had no learning gaps prior to COVID-19.”
He said data show that compared to last year, 22% fewer kindergarteners and 9% fewer students overall have met or exceeded beginning-of-year literacy benchmarks.
“And we’ve created a plan to be responsive to that [need]. And there are going to be consequences, and people are going to have to do work differently,” he said.
As of Thursday, the District had a coronavirus test positivity rate of 1.8%, and reported 16,537 total cases and 642 deaths. Virginia had a case positivity rate of 5%, and reported 170,104 cases and 3,524 deaths.
Meanwhile in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that he was taking $250 million from the state’s rainy day fund and applying it to the coronavirus economic recovery initiative, bringing the project’s total to $500 million. The initiative provides financial aid to Maryland businesses that are straining to endure the pandemic.
“I know that there is COVID fatigue and a tremendous frustration that this pandemic is continuing to disrupt our daily lives,” Mr. Hogan said Thursday during a press conference. “This has been a very long and difficult year for all of us, but the only way we can continue to make progress is by all of us doing our part and looking out for one another.”
He noted that Maryland had a test positivity rate of 3.1%, and reported 137,979 cases and 3,924 deaths.