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As elementary students near returning to campus for in-person instruction Nov. 9, opposition to how DC Public Schools has gone about it mounts.
Nearly every member of the Council voiced skepticism of the Bowser administration’s plans during a Friday roundtable with school officials. Even fans of DCPS Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee questioned whether DCPS is ready to welcome students back. “I’m really concerned,” said At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds as she learned more about planning. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen says he for one does not “have faith” in the plans.
The latest to express opposition: Cardozo Education Campus, a 6th-12th grade school in Ward 1.
Principal Arthur Mola says Cardozo is losing 17 staff members because DCPS is using them to staff “CARE classrooms,” a setup for younger students to return to campus for virtual instruction under the supervision of non-teachers. DCPS is using non-teaching employees from middle and high schools to staff the elementary schools. Losing counselors, assistant principals, and instructional coaches means Cardozo cannot keep its Student Support Center, Mola says. “It is as if our students are not as important as other students,” he wrote in a letter to Cardozo families, urging them to reach out to lawmakers.
“Everybody feels as upset as Mr. Mola,” says Cathy Reilly, the director of an advocacy group for secondary schools called SHAPPE. Reilly says she is hearing a lot from middle and high school staff and families who are very concerned about diminishing services and support as they lose manpower. Some of the people she’s hearing from are asking DCPS to pause reopening until they have a plan that doesn’t come at the expense of secondary schools.
“Their sense of community—that middle and high schools have put together during the pandemic—is being ripped,” says Reilly. Cardozo is located in Columbia Heights, the neighborhood with the most reported COVID-19 cases. WAMU reported in September that workers at the school have effectively become emergency responders.
“It’s horrifying that we have to endure this. Isn’t it enough for us to worry about staying alive and safe,” says Huleana Colson, the parent teacher organization president at Cardozo. She first learned her school is losing staff late last week and it’s been on her mind all weekend and into Tuesday.
Colson cannot underscore enough how essential every staff member is. “It’s not a school. It’s a community. They have been there for my kids since our tragedy on August 14,” she says. Colson’s son, Delante, was murdered last year, and Cardozo staff has helped Colson and her daughters who are in 9th and 11th grade cope. It’s still a daily struggle. Given that the coronavirus pandemic has only complicated life, her daughters have been leaning on all the services, including virtual counseling, that Cardozo has to offer, Colson says. She worries these services will be compromised with the removal of staff.
“This is making a big statement—that the junior and high schoolers have to sacrifice their education for the younger scholars. That is wrong. That is a terrible message to send,” Colson says. “Junior and high school scholars are as important and valuable as the younger scholars.”
DCPS tells WUSA9 they are reviewing the feedback they’ve received so far, and will follow up with school leaders on next steps. It remains unclear if DCPS could staff elementary schools without pulling from secondary schools, and Term 2 is just 13 days away.
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