D.C. schools are set to reopen this week for the first time in nearly a year, with schools in wealthier wards at maximum capacity while seats remain empty in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, because families there have opted in high numbers to stay home and continue with virtual learning.
The partial reopening is a relief to families of all incomes, but the mismatch across the city has teachers and parents questioning whether the city should be pouring resources during the pandemic into an in-person learning program that White students are disproportionately enrolling in.
Across the country, Black and Hispanic communities have been hit hardest by the virus, and many of these families have told their school districts they do not feel safe sending their children back to school buildings. In D.C., families in the poorest ward rejected offers for an elementary school spot at twice the rate of families in the wealthiest one, according to city data.
Still, the District’s public school population is overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic, and most students returning are students of color.
“She’s better off back at school,” said Rhonda Hall, a Black mother in Southeast Washington who is sending her 6-year-old daughter back to school because she was falling behind in reading and missed her friends.
The city’s reopening plan is capped at just 15,000 of the school system’s 52,000 students, some of whom were invited to come back to a classroom just once a week for a few hours. Only 9,200 students have accepted seats to return.
Students are preparing to return Monday as the teachers union and city continue to spar, with the union arguing it is not safe to return to school buildings and making a last-minute attempt to delay the reopening date. Snow also threatens to derail the long-awaited start.
Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said school buildings are safe, health metrics allow for students to return, and school will open as planned.
Principals were able to offer slots to anyone, but Ferebee had directed them to prioritize students at highest risk for academic failure, a broad group that includes students whose
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