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April 28, 9:30 a.m.: Washington Teachers’ Union President Elizabeth Davis was told after publication, Monday evening, that she is now on the ReOpen DC Committee on Education and Childcare following pushback. The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education confirms this. The government spokesperson declined to explain why she was initially excluded, but said “we are grateful to have Ms. Davis part of this very important working group.”
Washington Teachers’ Union President Elizabeth Davis says she told Mayor Muriel Bowser on Friday that she was interested in taking part in a newly formed committee responsible for guiding how D.C. can reopen schools safely. On Monday, Davis learned she wasn’t included.
Bowser announced members of the so-called ReOpen DC Advisory Group during Monday’s press conference. The group is tasked with recommending when and how to lift restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. An initial report is expected the week of May 11. Former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoffand former United Nations ambassador Susan Rice will chair the overall group, but it also includes 11 committees broken up by sector, each with their own chairs and members. This includes the Committee on Education and Childcare.
Noticeably missing from the Committee on Education and Childcare: the Washington Teachers’ Union, which represents more than 5,000 active and retired teachers.
“My concern is not just the absence of my name from the list but other teachers from both the public and charter school sector,” Davis tells City Paper. “Also, parents.”
“It’s a recipe for disaster,” she says.
According to its website, the committee will work to “close the digital divide, improve distance learning strategies, re-imagine physical learning environments, [and] evaluate phased entry for summer learning and next school year.” The committee is chaired by Deputy Mayor of EducationPaul Kihn and former Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis. The Associate Director with the Mayor’s Office of Policy at DC Government, Rich Harrington, will act as the Associate Committee Director.
No current teachers or principals are included on the 18-member committee. Instead, it includes a number of CEOs and executive directors of education-related organizations. The lack of representation from the teacher’s union or K-12 educators went immediately noticed. The teacher advocacy organization EmpowerEd called the committee selection “very disappointing.” There also looks to be more charter representation than DCPS.
A spokesperson for the mayor told City Paper that Bowser personally selected each member of the ReOpen DC Advisory Group. In a statement to City Paper, Kihn added that Bowser’s picks were “based on recommendations from various partners.”
“They bring a wealth of experience and passion for DC’s education system. This committee is tasked with building a creative and actionable pathway to recovery by incorporating broad community feedback beyond the standing representatives who maintain strong relationships with stakeholders at all levels including educators, parents and students,” Kihn adds.
The committee includes: Dr. Preetha Iyengar, an epidemiologist at D.C. Department of Health; Katherine Bradley, founder of the education nonprofit CityBridge Education; Pat Brantley, CEO of Friendship Public Charter School; Jacquelyn Davis, educational consultant and former CEO and president of Bainum Family Foundation; Ricarda Ganjam, DC Public Charter School Board member;Nicky Goren, a member of the Raise DC leadership council; Sonia Gutierrez, founder of the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School; LaTonya Henderson, executive director of Cedar Tree Public Charter School; Barry LeNoir, president of the nonprofit United Black Fund; Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity University; Cathy Reilly, director oft Senior High Alliance for Parents Principals and Educators; Victor Reinoso, the city’s first deputy mayor of education and an entrepreneur; Eboni-Rose Thompson, chair of the Ward 7 Education Council; Faith Gibson Hubbard, executive director of the mayoral group Thrive by Five DC; Hanseul Kang, the State Superintendent of Education; Melissa Kim, deputy chancellor of DC Public Schools; Ronald Mason, president of The University of the District of Columbia; and Dr. Ankoor Shah, deputy director of programs and policy at DC Health.
Prior to the creation of the ReOpen DC Advisory Group, WTU said it wanted to be included in decision-making because their members understand firsthand how remote learning is going and what social distancing can look like if schools gradually reopen. There is also a union contract to consider. (WTU is currently in the middle of contract negotiations with DCPS.) Currently, officials are deciding what school will look like over the summer and next year after they shortened this academic year. The union has already surveyed its members on how they’d prefer to give students extra learning. WTU has partnered with Fox5 to air lessons presented by DCPS teachers for students who don’t have access to laptops or Wi-Fi during school closures.
After consulting members, WTU will also seek a memorandum of understanding with DCPS Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee that sets conditions for reopening, like requiring personal protective equipment. Unionized teachers in Boston, for example, formalized remote learning instruction and established clear standards for work in their memorandum of understanding.
“If you leave teachers and parents out of the mix when you are having these discussions, it’s a dead end,” says Davis. “You can’t have policy makers and people who haven’t set foot in a school or who have no idea what teachers are dealing with. They will make decisions based on bad information or misinformation or no information. So we need to have teachers at the table.”