Teachers rally at Ft. Reno to protest DCPS reopening plans

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Photo courtesy of Madison Dias

Madison Dias

DCPS Ward Three teachers, staff, and families rallied together at Fort Reno on Saturday October 17 to demand transparency and accountability from DCPS with elementary schools set to reopen within the next two weeks. 

“High schools are not supposed to go back until [February 1] but they are saying that elementary schools need to go back November 9 and that’s inequitable,” PE and health teacher Rebecca Bradshaw-Smith said. Bradshaw-Smith is also a figure on the executive board of the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) and the representative for Wilson’s building. 

Social studies teacher Patrick Cassidy explained that as far as he has heard, “the plan does not seem to be well developed at this point and I am concerned for the welfare of the elementary school students and their teachers. And then ultimately it will affect all of us when we are scheduled to go back in February.” 

The return plan, as explained by Kelly Crabtree, Wilson Alumni of 2010 and fifth grade science and math teacher at Murch Elementary School, is disruptive. “It takes 11 students out of the entire grade level and then puts them into a class so that causes all classes to then reshuffle. If I’m the pulled in teacher, I essentially will only then be teaching those 11 students who I might have never taught yet,” explained Crabtree. 

Teachers were informed of this plan during Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Coronavirus Situational Report with DCPS Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee. Crabtree states, “I was teaching when the mayor had the press conference so my sister-in-law was texting me updates and the powerpoint slides as I was teaching so I could look at it after I was teaching.” 

Cassidy too was unaware of the plan before the conference. “We learn about things after the fact. The press conference was on [a school day]. We were in class, it was 11 and I know the Mayor does her press conferences at 11, not a problem. Could an email be sent out like an hour before to teachers saying ‘I’m making this announcement, this is our plan, hope you can join us or catch it later’?” 

“The term two reopen plan gives families, students, and teachers a false sense of hope for returning to our classrooms.…The plan goes against everything DCPS has stressed as most necessary during this pandemic including building strong relationships with students and families, providing social and emotional support, and prioritizing consistency…We know our students best, yet we are the last ones thought of or consulted,” Crabtree said. 

Crabtree wishes to continue distance learning for term two, though it’s very unlikely with DCPS currently planning to have elementary schools return for in-person learning within the second term in addition to Crabtree “most likely” being considered for in-person learning. 

DC is currently still in a state of emergency and in Phase Two until December 31. Additionally, with elections occurring November 3, it is uncertain what challenges this may bring to the DC area.

Bradshaw-Smith shares concerns with the DCPS school building readiness checklist, “My question is: How come DOH (Department of Health) is not the oversight body? The fire department, transportation department, and Nurse’s Union should be our leaders. It’s a lot of different layers that need to be working and not just passing the buck to the schools. They’re passing the buck so that they don’t have liability if something happens.” 

Bradshaw-Smith would prefer if the stated entities would go through all 115 DC Public Schools with assistance from LSAT teams, teachers, and administration and dictate which ones are safe. Additionally she’d prefer if the central office would base teacher availability off of more than a survey and truly include teachers, because according to Bradshaw-Smith, “they are pretending to include us in the conversation.”

 According to DCPS Reopen Strong, central operations specialists will conduct walkthroughs of each site with school teams. Ferebee includes, “We will continue to review the safety plans for schools between now and November 9 and DCPS principals will also be hosting building walks with local school advisory teams, PTA, and union representatives.”

 Ferebee claims that Elizabeth Davis, the President of the Washington Teacher’s Union, “has said on many occasions as I have [that] there is a need to provide in-person experiences for our students. President Davis has also indicated that there is a desire for teachers to do so.” 

Ferebee also said that DCPS “will continue conversations with all of our union partners around what will be required of them and what will be required of us as we track towards our November 9 in-person experiences…We are committed to having those conversations as long as we need to to ensure that everyone understands where we are and the direction that we’re headed.” 

Junior Darwin Denny shares a similar opinion with the teachers, “I think [the reopening] is very unsafe and very rushed. I think [the central office] is looking at it one-sided and is doing it for a personal goal that they are not trying to [disclose]… I think that the [teachers and the central office] should have a better bond. Teachers are the backbone of schools and for the central office to not have a better relationship than it has with the teachers is just crazy.” 

Bradshaw-Smith echoed the need for a stronger connection and communication, “Why are you having a meeting about schools and you are not talking to the people that it involves?” Bradshaw-Smith wants the central office to have teachers represented and address teacher and community questions. 

Cassidy too expressed the want to have the central office gain direct input from teachers because though the WTU represents them, the executives themselves are not in the classroom. 

Denny believes that if students were involved, the call to reevaluate reopening schools may gain more attention from DCPS leaders. 

Bradshaw-Smith encourages students, teachers, and families to “[go] downtown to the Council and let them know. Flood your council member’s email,” in order to become more involved with and have an impact in the reopening process. 

With the central office “calling all the shots,” Crabtree demands them to “hear our [teachers, families, and students] voices, hear our concerns, hear our questions and help us answer them together.” 

Bradshaw-Smith tells the central office to “Walk a day in our shoes…I keep saying, ‘I challenge the mayor and I challenge the chancellor to teach.’” 

“We should be going back [only when it’s safe]… As I tell my friends, I’ve been teaching for a long time, I enjoy what I do, I love what I do, but I’m not going to sit here and die because somebody else is not thinking,” Bradshaw-Smith said.