D.C. Mayor, Union Agree to Open Schools — Maybe

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Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers' Union. Courtesy WTU.

In late-breaking news on Friday, Nov. 13, the impasse between the Washington Teachers’ Union and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser — which prevented a partial reopening of District public schools as planned on Nov. 9 — seemed to be melting. 

At the heart of the tentative agreement is a 50-item safety checklist and a provision letting teachers decide personally whether they will go back to teaching in-person or online only. Teachers will be able to opt out of in-person teaching from now until February. After that, they can opt out barring a shortage of staff. Union President Elizabeth Davis said there will be room for negotiation in the new year.     

The agreement also allows designated members of school communities — including the principal, a parent and a union representative — to participate in a certified walk-through of a school to verify that needed improvements are in place prior to reopening. Community verification was a sticking point in the stalled negotiations.

“We wanted DC Public Schools to show us evidence that there are going to be standards,” said Davis. “Those protocols will get oversight from teachers and parents.” Over the past six months, union members had called for more input from those stakeholders.

“My main concern was making sure teachers didn’t feel forced to return to in-person teaching,” said Davis. “Many of my members were worried. They were concerned. Many of them work in schools that are 65 and 70 years old, with windows that won’t open — schools that have no central air conditioning, no heating/ventilation system that works properly. They had reason to be concerned.”

Neither DCPS nor Davis addressed any consideration for the many public schools throughout the District, including Georgetown’s Hyde-Addison Elementary School, that were completely rebuilt in the past five years with the latest ventilating systems and insulation. After two years of demolition and construction, Hyde-Addison, located at 3219 O St. NW, opened its modernized and expanded campus in 2018 to a record number of Georgetown students.       

Davis gave Washington Teachers’ Union members the weekend to give her feedback about the tentative agreement. She has until Tuesday, Nov. 17, to finalize the union’s response before informing DC Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee that they have a deal (or don’t). 

If they reach a final agreement, the city will begin planning to offer some students in-person classes taught by union-member teachers in the second semester, starting in February. Classrooms will be opened in the coming weeks to about 600 students who were allotted spaces in the DCPS CARE program, which allows for instruction and activities supervised by school personnel who are not certified teachers. 

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