WASHINGTON — On the day that DC Public Schools started welcoming select students back to classrooms, and after months of negotiations, the Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) announced that it had declined to sign a tentative Memorandum of Agreement with DCPS to reopen schools for in-person learning.
The school district brought approximately 600 students back to CARE (Canvas Academics and Real Engagement) classrooms at 35 elementary schools Wednesday, but these classrooms are not being led by DCPS teachers. Students in CARE classrooms are still learning remotely, and being monitored by a DCPS staff member "or an employee of a trusted school partner," according to DCPS.
"Over the past few weeks, we have worked diligently with our partners at DC Public Schools to create a framework that would allow our students to safely resume in-person learning in the coming weeks," a WTU statement said. "However, given the lack of clear public health guidelines and the lack of engagement with administrators and teachers around reopening plans, the WTU has determined it is not in the best interest of our students, teachers, and all school-based employees to sign the MOA at this time."
In a press conference Wednesday, Mayor Muriel Bowser said she's "disappointed by not surprised" that WTU walked away from the agreement with DCPS.
Select elementary schools were scheduled to return to in-person learning on Nov. 9, but DCPS reversed that decision on Nov. 2 after WTU -- which represents more than 5,000 active and retired teachers -- urged its members to take a mental health day or call out sick in protest of the DCPS school reopening plan.
WTU acknowledged that distance learning does not work for many of their students and expressed a desire to return to traditional learning but only once "adequate protections are in place."
The statement addressed two major issues that led to the ultimate decline to sign:
- Verifying that all promised work in our school buildings was completed
- Provisions for teachers to return to school for in-person instruction
"As DCPS moved forward with today’s opening of CARE Classrooms, our members were increasingly frustrated by a lack of transparency and engagement in the reopening of these classrooms," the WTU statement said. "DCPS has failed to share with us or the broader community a full list of schools that are reopening. Verification tours occurred prior to all work having been completed. Additionally, the lack of clear and transparent standards for air circulation gives us pause as we ask our members – or anyone – to reenter our school buildings."
Union leaders said they did not feel their facility checklists were adequately addressed before the reopening of CARE classrooms and were disappointed that the tentative MOA protections allowing teachers to opt-out of in-person learning would have expired at the beginning of the third term.
"With cases of COVID rising across the region and without clear guidance from the mayor as to what level of spread would cause our schools to close, we cannot move forward with an agreement that could force anyone, regardless of preexisting conditions or their living situations, back into an in-person classroom," WTU said.
WTU also expressed concerns about the staffing plans for CARE classrooms, and what they meant for students.
"The current CARE classroom plans will pull needed staff from our city’s middle and high schools to monitor – not instruct – students," WTU said. "The current plans to resume in-person learning would benefit just 7,000 elementary school students at the expense of nearly 43,000 other DCPS students, who would see larger class sizes or reduced supports. DCPS’s plans fail to adequately support those furthest from opportunity."
Ultimately, the union is asking the DC Council to "require DCPS to submit a clear and detailed plan regarding reopening."
WUSA9 has reached out to DCPS to request a comment but has not heard back yet.
See the full WTU statement below: