D.C. Schools Cancelled as Teachers Take Mental Health Days to Protest Reopening Plans

Washington DC teachers protest

Washington D.C. schools started November off with a loud message from teachers. Teachers do not feel safe returning to the classroom. The Washington Teachers’ Union has been in conflict with the D.C. public school system over reopening plans. D.C. schools have been fully remote so far this school year. Plans to bring 7,000 elementary students back to physical classrooms beginning November 9 was announced last month. The plan specified priority to students who are homeless, English language learners or have special educational needs.

Union says it still isn’t safe to reopen Washington D.C. schools

The union has been very vocal that it isn’t safe for teachers or students to return to the classroom yet. A vote was conducted of the union’s 1,200 members. A whopping 93% stated they have “no confidence” in the district’s reopening plans. Union President Elizabeth Davis has been in negotiations with Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee for months about reopening schools. One of the main issues keeping the two sides from reaching an agreement is the ability for any teacher to be allowed to refuse to teach in-person. Ferebee is adamant this should only be an option for teachers who are high-risk or live with a high-risk person.

In addition to ongoing discussions with the school district, the union has led rallies bringing awareness to teacher concerns. They have also launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #OnlyWhenItsSafe. The posts list teacher concerns and ask, “Not too much to ask during a pandemic, right?” These requests include:

  • a seat at the table when planning to reopen
  • a plan that doesn’t address relationships and learning
  • clean air in our classrooms

Mental health day “sick-in” protest

Chancellor Ferebee has said plans to move forward would continue even if an agreement wasn’t reached with the union. However, it looks like Davis may have thrown a wrench in that plan. She sent an email to union members on Sunday, November 1. She urged teachers to take a mental health day in protest on Monday, November 2. In the email, she asked teachers to still respond to students who reach out for assistance. Davis said it’s important it doesn’t appear teachers are abandoning their students. Hundreds of teachers took part in the “sick in” and called out of virtual teaching. Principals sent emails to families advising that some classes may be canceled for the day.

Many principals seemed supportive of the protest. The principal of Roosevelt High School wrote, “Those who choose to participate are using this as an opportunity for a cause that they believe in which will ultimately help ensure safety and the best education possible.”

Principal Alysia Lutz told parents she would explain to students, “teachers are calling out sick today to make sure other adults know how they feel about something — they are making their opinions, or their views, known.”

The mental health day protest seems to be a success. Chancellor Ferebee announced Washington D.C. schools will not begin in-person learning on November 9 as previously planned. A new plan has not yet been announced.

The Washington Teachers’ Union thanked the district on Twitter, “We’d like to thank DCPS for delaying the return to in-person learning. We hope to work together, with parents, school leaders, and DCPS to build a plan that works better for more students.”


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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed., an editor at Bored Teachers, is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She's been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga. Connect with her at rachael.m@boredteachers.com
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