District of Columbia Public Schools from pre-K to grade 12 will take place online-only for the fall term, Aug. 31 through Nov. 9, announced Mayor Muriel Bowser at her daily press briefing on July 30. “To all those parents and students who wanted in-person classes, I want them to know that we will continue to plan for that,” the mayor said.
The decision to only offer classes online during the first term came unexpectedly. Until this week, officials had considered a mixed-option plan of in-person classes on some days for those who wanted them, along with a basic fully virtual option for everyone.
Safety for school personnel and students was the overwhelming priority at D.C. town hall meetings and surveys, according to Bowser. “But the decision was not based on any particular health metrics. There were lots of other considerations that had to be included, such as work force and faculty issues and parental and student comfort, we had to consider.”
Issues such as social distancing and children wearing masks all day were concerns. Teachers’ unions throughout the country have threatened “safety strikes” if they don’t believe schools to be safe enough to return.
“We will make sure that all D.C. students have access to online learning,” DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said. “According to recent D.C. student family surveys, some 44 percent of students do not have access to a mobile learning device and internet access at home available to them throughout the day.” That’s about 35,000 devices that need to be distributed, according to DCPS estimates.
“Teachers have been spending the summer reshaping and transferring their learning materials for online learning,” Ferebee continued. “The curriculum for all ages has become more user-friendly and age- and grade-appropriate.” New elements such as “Living Through History,” in which students share their personal experiences living through the pandemic over the past few months, are also included.
Online schooling will encompass about four to five hours a day and include teacher-guided curricula in math, reading, science and other basics, as well as some independent time and slots for extracurricular work. Teachers will meet with students personally at regularly scheduled times once a week. Specialized high school academies will continue online, as will help for special-needs students, including those enrolled in English as a Second Language, according to the chancellor.
Monitoring of learning will take place on a daily and weekly basis. Some letter grades will be offered for students who want them, with an option that work graded below a B could be graded pass/incomplete.
One reporter asked: “Why a Nov. 9 end date?” The implication was that it was the end of the election season. “Because it’s the end of the first term,” the mayor answered dryly.
Bowser also made it clear that independent, charter and private schools would be announcing their schedules soon. “Some may choose in-person or other hybrid offerings,” she said. “DCPS has offered a clear framework about the way education can look in the city.”
As for opening some facilities earlier or for those who don’t have anywhere else to go, the mayor commented: “If we don’t have teachers who want to come in in person, we will need to look for other adults who will.”