In just over two weeks DC Public Schools are expected to welcome elementary students back on campuses. The school district, under the control of Mayor Muriel Bowser, and the Washington Teachers’ Union have yet to reach an agreement on how to reopen safely. And this week, a quasi-judicial agency found that DCPS violated local law and engaged in unfair labor practices. 

The Public Employee Relations Board, an independent board that resolves labor-management disputes, takes issue with DCPS’ handling of reopening schools. The school district sent teachers an “intent form” about returning to in-person work in late June unbeknownst to the union. DCPS argued its actions were merited given the urgency, but the hearing examiner pointed out that DCPS consulted with “numerous sources” about its planning so it could have consulted the union.      

“I have found DCPS actions to constitute direct dealing and unilateral actions which served to undercut the Union with its membership,” the Oct. 19 decision says. The decision tells DCPS to rescind the form and its survey results, which DCPS had been using to determine staffing, and to negotiate in good faith with the union about reopening.

The decision is the second time the labor review board ruled in favor of the teachers’ union. In May, the union accused DCPS of failing to negotiate in good faith by delaying contract negotiations and blaming the coronavirus pandemic. And in a July decision, the Public Employee Relations Board agreed. 

“Any successful plan to reopen our schools to in-person learning must include the safety of the community and will require DCPS to build trust and engage the community to succeed,” says WTU President Elizabeth Davis in response to the PERB preliminary ruling. 

On The Kojo Nnamdi Show on Wednesday, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said his department is rescinding the form, although he did not elaborate on how this might impact staffing decision-making. In an email to DCPS staff, Ferebee shared that his department has engaged in more than 100 hours of discussions with the teachers’ union. Notably, the email made no mention that the labor board said DCPS has sometimes failed to bargain in good faith. “DCPS will implement all health and safety precautions outlined by DC Health, as well as additional safeguards recommended by our union partners. We will continue to act in good faith with everyone, including the WTU,” he wrote.

Ferebee and Davis are both hopeful that DCPS and the union can reach a decision soon. But they are still not seeing eye-to-eye on some key issues, including the DCPS decision to have middle and high school employees staff elementary classrooms. 

On Friday, the Council is holding a roundtable discussion about the return of in-person learning. But only government witnesses are providing oral testimony, including DCPS. The teachers’ union is upset that members were not invited to testify—and once again, were excluded from reopening discussions—so they are rallying outside the Wilson Building

—Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com

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By Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com

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By Kelyn Soong (tips? ksoong@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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