DC Public Schools Cave to Teachers' Union on Return to Classrooms

Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser (D.) / Getty Images
November 2, 2020

Washington, D.C., has caved to teachers protesting the scheduled return to in-person learning for at-risk students.

Teachers in the District of Columbia organized a "sick out" to protest the district's reopening plan for next Monday, Nov. 9, which would offer in-person learning to students in special education classes, English-language learners, and homeless children. The Washington Teachers' Union urged its members to describe their absence as a "mental health day" when requesting the day off.

Within hours of teachers calling out of work, District of Columbia Public Schools chancellor Lewis Ferebee sent a district-wide email halting the return to the classroom. "While we planned to offer in-person learning at the start of Term 2 for select elementary students, this timeline will need to be adjusted," Ferebee said. "This means all students in grades PK-12 will now begin Term 2 on Monday, November 9 with learning at home."

The teachers' union and school district have reached a stalemate in negotiating a return date. The union argues the now-halted plan does little to protect the health of "students, teachers, and the community." The union also approved a motion of "no confidence" against Democratic mayor Muriel Bowser after she signed off on the reopening plan. Bowser did not respond to requests for comment.

Elizabeth Davis, the union president, told members to take the day off from interacting with administrators and the school district but not with students. "We do not want the appearance that we are abandoning our students," Davis said. "Stay in touch with students via text messaging, phone calls, emails, or Zoom meetings."

One D.C. resident with children in the school system told the Washington Free Beacon that teachers have not interacted with students, and families are not privy to their teachers' personal contact information. The mother of three also noted that one of her children's teachers did not communicate that they would be absent from online learning ahead of time.

"Throughout this entire effort, parents and teachers have had to partner…. What happened this morning is a slap in the face to families who have done everything they can to side with their teachers," the mother said. "The teachers effectively said, 'We are going to play politics with your children.'"