By Southwester Staff

Editor’s Note: In the January 2021 issue of The Southwester, we printed an article about the term 3 opening at Amidon-Bowen elementary school that contained some errors. This article is the corrected version.

Starting Feb. 1, things are going to change for parents and students in the DCPS community. For the first time since learning went virtual, public schools across the District will begin offering more in-person learning (IPL). Amidon-Bowen ES will also chart a path through these unknown, unpredictable waters. Here’s what we know so far and what you need to know for the coming school year. 

In-person learning isn’t starting Feb. 1, but already started on Dec. 2 with two CARE (Canvas Academics and Real Engagement) classrooms: one 2nd/3rd grade room and one 4th/5th grade room. Just over a dozen students have attended the CARE classrooms on a daily basis, 10 students in grades 2-3 and four in grades 4-5. Due to COVID restrictions, class sizes of 12+ are prevented. One hundred percent of students and staff were/are able to participate in asymptomatic testing. 

Moving forward, there has been some tension between DCPS, teachers, and parents about what the next steps are, and not everyone is on the same page. Since the start of the pandemic, many parents and teachers have pointed out the lack of a coherent plan and transparency, with primary stakeholders (parents and school staff) not being heard. “No one reasonable making decisions would make decisions this way,” said one parent at a recent meeting about the reopening. 

According to a Community Core Survey (done in early-mid December – more information below), out of 49 current responses 45% of parents said they would return for IPL and 50% of parents said that keeping their homeroom teacher is important, while 23% said they would not return if it meant losing their homeroom teacher. These results were skewed towards the lower grades.

Based on the data received from the survey, parents and school staff indicated that preserving their current homeroom teachers is very important. 

After a difficult and chaotic spring semester during the beginning of the pandemic, with app and login problems, the digital divide (which The Southwester covered in June and is an ongoing problem throughout DCPS), as well as the hiccups of the first few weeks of the 2020-2021 school year this fall, parents and staff indicated that maintaining the rapport and relationships built between students and teachers over the last few months is key to student success going forward. The staff has also indicated that changing content and grade levels is not preferable. Though some said they’d be willing to make the change.

Based on the ABES Draft Plan Rationale, the school wants to have “all eligible teachers lead both [IPL] and [distance learning],” which Amidon-Bowen says will maintain “continuity” in case COVID forces everyone to return to distance learning at a short notice. According to the Draft Plan, the school wants to implement half-day IPL schedules for Pre-K (PK) in order to keep virtual attendance low. 

Amidon is able to accommodate more IPL students while sticking to safety guidelines. 

What is relevant, here, is that teachers who are a part of the Washington Teacher’s Union (WTU) “may be assigned to in-person work – unless approved of federally protected leave.” In such a case, IPL staffing will consist of teachers without federally protected leave, who may be forced to return against their will if the demand is greater than the number of teacher volunteers.

For now, on February 1 the school plans to open 14 IPL classrooms and maintain the two CARE classrooms. Families who have already accepted an IPL seat have first priority. Following that, students that are experiencing homelessness, ESL learners or students with individualized learning plans, as well as at-risk students will have next priority. 

Principals will be able to appeal for students with unique needs to help ensure they are offered an IPL seat. For term 3, there is no cap on the number of students that can be appealed but “those requests will be reviewed and approved by Instructional Superintendents.”

Currently, the Draft Plan indicates that the model will look like this: 

  • in-person PK will be dismissed at noon
  • kindergarten-5th grade in-person will observe a staggered schedule: arrival: 8:15-9 a.m.; dismissal: 3-3:30 p.m.

With this model, one teacher will teach both IPL and virtual lessons all week for PK and kindergarten (often with support staff). Student schedules may change, but small group instruction will continue to be prioritized. For K-5, though, students will be grouped in small rotations, so teachers will flip between IPL students and virtual students. For example, two second grade teachers will each teach one group of kids, either in-person or online, then they will swap and teach another group of kids. 

So, what will be different? Right now, teachers are currently drafting new schedules, which will be shared with parents during the first week of January. This will give families at least three weeks to prepare and plan for Term 3.

Nothing is codified yet, and parents can still make their thoughts and priorities known by completing the survey and/or reaching out to Ms. Sykes via phone: (202) 724-4867, or email: tamikka.sykes@k12.dc.gov. 

There will be another Term 3 orientation meeting for each grade level on Wednesday, Jan. 6, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Parentes will receive new classroom schedules for Term 3 and learn more about the changes and shifts in the instructional model. Finally, during the week of Jan. 11, IPL seat offers will be extended and parents will have two days to decline or accept the offer.

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