During a press conference on May 23, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that the school year of 2020-2021 will begin either in-person or at home on August 31. As DC plans to reopen in a set of four stage beginning May 29, the next school year will be a result of that progress. Specific details on improved school policies are set to be released sometime between June and July, after a survey on needs and preferences goes out to parents and professional development days being held until June 14th.
Bowser is hopeful that by August 31, DC will be within Phase Two of the reopening process with “some in-school learning with guidelines for social distancing in place” and schools being “likely able to serve fewer students in the same place at the same time.” DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee suggested a possible “hybrid” approach in Phase Two with “some students having to learn at home and some students having to do both in-person learning and online.”
The phase that is reached by August 31 will determine the schedule that will be followed. Phases Two to Four allow for schools to partially reopen, starting with students who might benefit most from in-person instruction followed by all schools with blended instruction. This would include capacity restrictions of 10 people per classroom and expectation of A/B schedules where half of the students would go in on A days and the other half on B days. Phase One would only consist of distance learning.
If Phase Two were to be reached by August 31, then there are three scheduling options being considered. According to NBC News, “The first option would have students at school for one assigned day per week, with virtual learning for four days. The second option would have students at school for two assigned days per week, with virtual learning for three days. The third option would have students in schools for a full week every third week.”
Paul Kihn, Deputy Mayor of Education, describes the start of the school year as “relatively uncertain.” Kihn mentioned how “health and health considerations and the safety of students, and adults, and faculty, and teachers in the buildings” are the “primary concern.” Health may be addressed in schools with classrooms being reconfigured to allow for six feet of social distancing, and the use of public spaces to allow for an expanded classroom. Additionally, students and staff would have to wear face coverings, pass through a hand-sanitizing station, and have their temperature checked when arriving at school.
This concern for DC residents is echoed by Mayor Bowser, who stated that it is crucial to “take care of the health of all DC residents.” Bowser believes “following a measured and phased approach will allow us to get back to school and allow us to advance in phases.” Additionally, Kihn suggests that at the beginning of the year, “schools will run no-stakes diagnostic tests” in order for educators to deepen their understanding of the physical and mental support students need.
A city advisory group made to support reopening DC is focused on safe transportation, childcare support, internet access support, and electronic devices. They are working to coordinate the reopening of schools, daycares, and transportation to help students and workers travel safely. Additionally, the group aims to provide access to broadband internet, devices, and training for all residents unable to access digital resources, so every Washingtonian has the ability to work and learn remotely. According to Bowser, “grant funds will be used for purchasing devices for students who don’t have them.”
A common concern of parents is the loss of learning due to the hasty removal of a regular schedule and in-person interactions. Ferebee said that there are plans to address this possible loss, including “additional time for teaching and learning.” This could involve an extension of school days or potential school services “on Saturdays, as well as additional support before school and after school.” Ferebee also suggested that available resources will be of access in the summer.
Ferebee mentioned a possibly modified attendance process where students would “log onto a student information system daily as a means for checking attendance and ensuring that we account for student attendance daily.” However, the approach to “attendance by course or by class may be a little more challenging and may be a practice that we abandon.” Kihn added that “in this city, the States Superintendent’s office determines the attendance policy and what is acceptable for attendance,” and deems “schooling as mandatory.” Their expectation is that “teaching and learning will continue for every single student.”