Despite not having a return date, Wilson is formulating plans for safe, in-person learning

Despite+not+having+a+return+date%2C+Wilson+is+formulating+plans+for+safe%2C+in-person+learning

Photo by Madison Dias

Madison Dias

With advisory two approaching on November 9, DCPS is working on “workforce readiness” and building preparations necessary for the return of students to in-person learning with a hybrid approach. Principal Kimberly Martin is considering outdoor learning options, a phased approach, and the prioritization of students with certain programs. As of now, there seems to be no set date for Wilson’s return. 

When asked if Wilson is planning on going back anytime soon with the Mayor and Chancellor recently announcing the reopening of some schools, Principal Martin was quick to say, “no. no. no.” She elaborates, explaining how it’s “misleading because those schools aren’t returning to school in the sense of like kids are coming to take their english, math, social studies, and science classes. That’s not how it is.” Instead, “schools are readmitting students for specialized programs or specialized student support services,”said Martin. She includes how some students may be taking an “academy class” but students aren’t returning to school and attending classes all day. As of right now, Wilson is not on the list of DC Public Schools that are returning. 

In terms of preparation, according to Martin, Wilson has all of their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) ready in addition to floor signs and the “walk this way down the hallway” notices. “All of the purchases need[ed], [they] are already in the building.” Martin, along with all other DCPS principals and staff, is now waiting for “word from either the Mayor’s office or the council or from DCPS, whoever it is that’s making the decision, what hybrid will look like [and] what exactly the parameters [are] by which we admit students when we come back to school,” Martin said. 

Martin has received a “Covid-19 operations handbook guidance,” with 69 pages describing cleaning guidance, a possible hybrid model approach, managing visitors that come to the building, and after school programs and athletics.

Twelve out of 115 school principals, who were given an option to submit a plan on small-person instruction by DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee, have turned one in, Principal Martin not being one of them. “I haven’t yet, I am still working on it,” said Martin. Currently, she is working to see if she is able to incorporate outdoor learning into her return to school plan, she met with a consultant and did a tour of the grounds of Wilson. Martin claims, “the outdoor learning space is easy when the weather is nice, but my consultant says ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, there’s just bad preparation for the weather… But it requires preparation and some money if I’m going to purchase some heaters and things like that.”

Martin is waiting for a report from the consultant, detailing the prices for rental materials such as heaters and tents. Martin and the consultant discussed “purchasing tents and equipping those tents with things like heaters, propane heaters, and things like that so that they can be used as long throughout the winter as they possibly can,” She also included discussing student accessibility to bathrooms by possibly, “creating a schedule. [Say] if there’s five classes on the football field and there’s two bathrooms near the football field like at what times can different groups of students use the restroom.” The teacher’s parking lot and a space by the front of Wilson are also being considered for outdoor learning spaces.

Martin is planning ahead, thinking through the possibility of having 500 to 1,000 students in the building at one time, reiterating how she is unsure if it will happen but if it were to occur, she’s planning how to keep students socially distant and safe. According to Martin, “The only way to do that is if we have no more than say 15 students in a classroom at a time which means we would have to double the number of classroom capacity that we have because most of our classrooms fit 30 students at a time so that’s what we are looking at outdoor spaces for.”

When asked about the reopening process, Martin said, “I think it’s going to occur in stages. I think it will be based on student’s needs, programs, age maybe,” explaining how preschool and elementary school students have a harder time with online learning than high school students. Martin believes that a return to school plan will prioritize students based on some criteria. “Maybe [the criteria will be based on] student needs like I really really really want to bring back our DHOH students, deaf and hard of hearing, I think it’s really hard in an online setting.” Martin includes how she would like to bring back students with the visually impaired unit, explaining how there are some braille machines and ways that students can access the curriculum in an online setting but it’s “far less than ideal.”

DCPS has not sent out any information in response to what the return to school plan looks like. Teachers received a survey called the “School Readiness Survey” in which they had to pick one option out of four of which they would like to be considered for if in-person learning were to return. For instance, there were three 100 percent virtual options of which they had to qualify for and show proof of conditions for with one being based on a first come first serve basis. The fourth option included the teacher wanting to go in-person for less than five days a week. Martin believes that this survey will be used to assist DCPS with making plans and decisions based on which schools are ready staff-wise for in-person attendance, “Like if all the Wilson teachers said yeah we’re ready to return to work that might encourage us to think about coming back sooner.”

Parents and guardians, according to Martin, will most likely be able to decide whether or not their student goes back to in-person learning, however, she is unsure since there is no plan set in stone. 

In response to being asked her opinion on the return to school, senior Olivia Collotta, replied, “I’d trust the scientists on this far more than I’d trust any politician. If they can’t prove that they’ve minimized the dangers enough, I won’t risk my older relatives catching [COVID-19], because I have close family members who are in high risk groups. I mean just for my own mental health, I really really want to go back to school, so it’s hard to know that like, you could go back, and still have to turn it down for other people’s safety.” She adds, “I’m just not sure how worth it it would be to go back, even just part time or with limited students, before the vaccine is out.” In consideration of possibly returning to school with COVID around, junior Waleeja Chaudhry said, “The virus is still active and deadly, we need to stop normalizing how dangerous it is.” 

In response to DCPS reopening, Wilson students stand on two different sides with some students wishing to return as soon as possible, and others in total disagreement. Senior Sabina Lordan explains why she’d prefer to return, “I am more motivated to do work knowing that I will have to face my teachers in person. [with online learning,] I can easily make excuses (technology difficulties) to not do my homework.” Similarly, junior Matthew Tirajoh said he would prefer to return, “learning just isn’t the same online. I feel like it’s harder to grasp the content.” As for the students in disagreement, junior Henry Cohen said “I don’t trust the staff to facilitate a safe environment.” Additionally, junior Ryan Howard said, “We couldn’t even keep it [Wilson] clean before Corona.”