DCPS to be all virtual for beginning of 2020 school year

Anna Arnsberger

In a press conference held on Thursday, July 30, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that DCPS will be all online for the first term of the school year. 

After hoping to release an arrangement for hybrid learning on July 16, Bowser delayed that decision to further monitor health metrics and community feedback. “Our top priority in planning for this school year is, of course, the health and well-being of our students, staff, families, and community,” Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn said before revealing the new, completely-virtual plan.

Though they will look different across grade levels, DCPS Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee stressed the importance of having consistent, predictable schedules for student learning. Ferebee said that each week there will be “live, synchronous learning time, where all students would be with an instructor, and also independent learning time.” For high school, that will look like having four-period block days, including four to five hours of instructional time.

A majority of the provided independent learning sessions will take place on Wednesdays. “We believe this also allows us to easily transfer the learning time for learning at home to a hybrid structure, should we move in that direction for term two,” Ferebee said. In the original hybrid plan, there were no planned in-person lessons on Wednesdays, which were instead dedicated to cleaning.

Much of the plan for this fall is based on feedback and experience from the virtual learning that took place last spring. A survey released in June revealed that many families sought greater clarity regarding scheduling, attendance, and online platforms. Ferebee confirmed that in the fall, “all of our learning will take place through our Canvas platform and all live instruction will take place through Microsoft Teams.” In addition, some 200 teachers have spent the summer working with DCPS to audit the curriculum and ensure efficiency and organization.

In response to break-downs in attendance last spring, attendance will now be taken each day through students logging into Canvas. However, the grading policy will remain similar to before, with students being able to earn As and Bs. For anything below, students may choose whether to receive a letter grade or a pass or fail.

Ferebee said he wants to put a “greater emphasis in grading on our assessments but also student engagement and practice.” Progress checks will be implemented to monitor student proficiency and catch any gaps in learning. To make up for lost education, a few extra days have also been threaded into the school year, taking the place of staff work days. 

A major concern for virtual learning is the digital divide which prevents some students from accessing technology and the internet. “We are committed to getting every student who needs a device or internet access the tools they need to successfully participate in distance learning,” Kihn said. Ferebee and Kihn encouraged families to fill out their technology survey, which collects data on device and internet availability and device accessibility. “Based on the feedback we get from families through the survey, we will distribute devices accordingly and provide internet access accordingly,” said Ferebee.

Also to be provided are services for students requiring special education or English language support, likely in the form of small or individual lessons led by the proper teachers. A distance learning addendum will be included in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). DCPS will continue to set up meal sites as before, offering more if necessary. 

Health data were not the only factors contributing to the decision for virtual learning. “We want to work with our workforce, we want to make sure that parents have confidence in an in-person option and then make sure that when we do have an in-person option, we can maximize the attendance of our teachers and our kids,” said Bowser. This announcement came after the Washington Teacher’s Union had been advocating to reopen schools “only when it’s safe,” organizing protests and car caravans.

Nothing has been decided for how schools will look following the end of term one, which lasts from August 31 to November 6. “We feel very strongly that we have a plan to have all of our facilities with the safety and health infrastructure… [to] be ready on the timeline that we need them to be ready,” said Bowser. She emphasized that she will continue to pay attention to health metrics along with the opinions of students, parents, and teachers when making a decision for term two and the rest of the year.