DC Council fights for answers regarding DCPS reopening plan


WASHINGTON (WDVM) — DC Council held a meeting with DC Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee on Friday, October 23, to get some answers regarding the school system’s reopening plan. Around 21,000 elementary students are scheduled to be back in the classroom on November 9th, but parents and teachers are uneasy when it comes to the plans.

Chancellor Ferebee said, “Learning should take place in the classroom with clear safety precautions.” While the chancellor reiterated what DCPS has been putting out for the past few weeks regarding the plan, councilmembers voiced their concerns and the concerns of their constituents.

Vincent Gray, Councilmember for Ward 7, said, “I don’t know how we can say to parents that they should send their children back to school and they themselves don’t have some level of comfort as a parent.” Robert White, At-large Councilmember added, “I can’t make that decision. I don’t even have enough information, and I’m a councilmember for God’s sake. So how are parents, how are teachers supposed to make that determination? We just don’t have what we need.”

Each councilmember had 10 minutes for a Q&A with the chancellor, who explained the safety steps DCPS is taking. “DC has invested over $31 million in safety measures for school including $3.6 million for additional PPE, $4.5 million for building readiness initiative, and $24 million to enhance HVAC systems,” Chancellor Ferebee said.

Even with the numbers explained, and answers regarding on-site COVID-19 testing, councilmembers asked for more details. Councilmember for Ward 3, Mary Cheh, said, “Students and staff, they have to be safe, but they have to feel safe. They have to feel safe, including the parents. So more information, more assessment about what’s being done, a checklist of what we’re looking at will add to the confidence.” Chancellor Ferebee said, “Our strong strategies that are included in our plan which include mask wearing, social distancing, cohorting students, ensuring that there’s minimal transitions throughout the day and many of our other strategies we’ve incorporated including HVAC enhancements.”

While this meeting went on, a crowd gathered with the Washington Teachers Union to protest the reopening.

Councilmember White was present at part of that protest. He said, “This is the reality, where COVID-19 has taken the lives of over 200 thousand people from every age group, so every teacher, every parent is making a heart-wrenching decision balancing the desire to be back in person in school on one hand vs the real risk it presents to people’s health, safety and their lives on the other hand.”

Chancellor Ferebee said DCPS will be offering school walkthroughs in the near future to allow councilmembers to understand the safety measures that are in place, and share that with their constituents. He would not commit to having the walkthroughs filmed to be shared with the public.

DC Council will be sending DCPS a formal letter with final unanswered questions by next Tuesday.
Count on WDVM to continue following this story as it unfolds.

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